Hippy Saves the World Episode 5: You

I left St. Francisville, Louisiana with a full belly thanks to Anne Butler and the Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B. I didn’t stick around for the fallout from the night before. Those children in adult clothes were someone else’s problem. I had my own occupying my mind. I headed north and east, avoiding the interstates for the back roads that were a hell of a lot more interesting and safer. The hills and valleys, curves and turns were the reason I would always pick a bike over a cage.

But I digress.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that this solo run began with me ending the life of an asshole. Like I said, it’s not a judgement, it’s a fact. Dexter Green made himself bigger by stepping on people, grinding them down until they saw themselves as the gum stuck to his shoe. I’d been thinking on tactics to get him to adjust his style, how to get it through his head that you don’t build a team by knocking heads together when I pulled onto the job site. Our company, like most good construction companies, required us to back in.

It’s safer.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Board crash data for 2018 showed there were 200,000 accidents where the vehicle at fault was backing up. Another 44,000 accidents were from leaving a parking space and 22,000 from entering a parking space. Easy to see why insurance companies and others who have to pay for the accidents like the first motion to be forward. For parking in a perpendicular space, that means pulling through or backing in.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the #1 crash vehicle maneuver was going straight. Nearly 5.4 million accidents with over 27,000 fatalities happened when people weren’t doing anything fancy.

Why aren’t the money people addressing that? Well, they are. What do you think all of the PSAs for driving sober and not texting and driving are for?

Beyond that? Well, you can’t fix stupid.

That’s why when I’m riding, I have to watch everywhere.

Where am I going with all this?

You’re an impatient fucker, aren’t you? I’m telling this story and I’ll get to the point in my own time.

Okay, now’s the time.

If Dexter Green was standing in the parking space when I pulled in, I would have seen him when I turned the truck around.

There were two vehicles. Tim’s fancy new Honda and Dexter’s fancier Chevy Silverado. Nobody was around. Not in the parking area, not anywhere I saw.

So, where the hell did he come from?

Not the trailer. It was across the driving path from where I parked. If he’da come out of there, he would have crossed in front of me.

Not the work site. We were working at a couple different places in the plant, but they were all behind me. Dexter would have had to either cross in front of me, which he didn’t, or behind me. If he did that, no way he would have gotten to the parking area faster than me. Dexter didn’t move at ten miles an hour if there was free barbecue for lunch.


It’s starting to rain. Which means, I’m gonna get wet.

Teresa and the kids bought me rain gear a few years back. Good stuff, too. Legit Harley Davidson.

But I don’t wear them.

The temperature was warm enough when you’re standing still. At seventy miles an hour, rain soaked through denim, eventually it got in and under my leathers. Next thing you know, the windchill turned June back into March. I took a break around Birmingham, Alabama, for the first time thinking about where I was headed.

With a hot cup of coffee and a brisket sandwich in front of me, I scrolled through my phone contacts to see who was in the area.

I didn’t have to go too far. In the alphabet, I mean.


Remember that snake in preacher’s clothing back in Nashville? Well, my buddy Ron was his opposite. I may have mentioned him. He started his own construction company some years back, in addition to his preaching. It took all of three seconds to decide Chattanooga, Tennessee was my next stop. I called. He called back and I had a place to sleep.

The way the GPS takes you, it’s a solid eight hours between St. Francesville and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. The way I went it was closer to ten hours.

I was more than happy when I pulled into Ron’s driveway. He lived in a bungalow, on the high side of the street. Before I cut the engine, the garage door was going up and my friend walked out.

“Pull her in,” he said, pointing to the empty spot in his double wide garage.

He didn’t have to tell me twice.

Ron didn’t ride but he knew plenty who did. He had a shower, dry towels, and a hot meal waiting. By the time I washed the road and rain off, my legs remembered how this walking thing went. I sat at Ron’s table, reminiscing about the projects we’d done together, the people we knew.

“Everything going good with the business?” I asked.

He nodded. “Real good. I’m havin’ trouble keepin’ up it’s so good.” Ron went on, telling me about the projects and his crew. He talked a good game, but I could tell something was bothering him. He kept toeing up to it, and then retreated, asking me instead if I wanted more to drink, then to eat.

I was curious and amused at the same time. I let it go for a while and then it felt kinda wrong. “Ron, it seems like there something you’re trying not to tell me.”

He was shocked, guess he thought he was hiding it, then he grinned. “I forgot just how perceptive you were.”

“No using ten letter words against me,” I said, giving him my dead pan stare. “I’m just an idiot, you know that.”

Laughter burst out. “You are not, and everybody knows that.” Then he sobered up. “I have a problem, one you could help me with. One of my superintendents is out for a few days unexpectantly. Now I have two jobs tomorrow and one guy to run it. Me. Both crews are good but raw. They can’t do the work without a strong superintendent.”

I raised an eyebrow.

Ron studied his scarred hands. “I was dreddin’ havin’ to call either client to back out and tellin’ one of the crews they weren’t goin’ to have a pay day tomorrow. I prayed on it, tryin’ to make a decision I didn’t want to make.” He looked up. “Then you called.”

I thought about it. This felt right. “Call me Mr. Serendipity.”

He barked out another laugh. “What happened to despisin’ ten letter words?”

“Still stands. Serendipity has eleven.”


The next morning, I set up for a day under a blue sky with just enough clouds to keep it comfortable. The crews got going, finishing grading the site and setting the footers for a future day’s concrete pour. Some of the guys were rough, but I’d seen rougher. They needed coaching here and there, but all in all, it was an easy day.

Leaning on the handle of a shovel, waiting for the excavator to finish, a laborer named Sully started filling the time. “How’s your wife doing at the bank, Max?”

“She keeps flippin’ between pissed and depressed. Last night, Michelle was so mad, the dog spent the night sitting on my lap. This morning, I thought she was gonna burst into tears.”

“It’s just not right,” Sully said, then he looked at me. “His wife’s been working at that bank for like ten years—”

“Eight,” Max corrected.

“Eight is like ten,” Sully argued. “Anyway, she goes into work one day and there’s this kid sitting in the empty office. Turns out, they hired this guy two years out of college, gave him the fancy office with the glass door, and the title of assistant vice president.”

“Whatever the fuck that means,” Max muttered.

“It means more money, is what it means.”

Alright. They got me. “What does your wife do at the bank?”

“She does financial analysis and modeling.” He snorted. “I know, don’t know what she sees in me. She’s smart and she’s good at what she does. Nobody else does what she can and that includes the new assistant vice president. She’s pretty sure, when he reads her results, he doesn’t know what he’s looking at.”

Sully stepped forward and put the shovel to good use, talking as he did. “They never even told her there was a job open, did they Max? Nosiree. They just went on the hunt for a college boy. Totally ignored the hard-working employee they already had.” He kept on talking, but I have to say he worked as fast as he talked. “It’s bull shit. Everyone’s talking about how no one can find any good people and then this bank goes and fucks her up the ass—no offense, Max —I mean why would you toss over a good woman when you know, you absolutely know, you couldn’t replace her? She should go to another bank.”

Max didn’t talk as much as Sully, but he worked just as hard. “She’s considering it.”

“Well, she should,” Sully went on. “Another bank would prolly snap her up. And give her a raise. And a fancy title.”

“Maybe,” Max said. “Thing is, she likes her bank. It’s close to home. She knows everyone there and most of the customers. Going somewhere else would be like leaving her friends.”

“There’s something to that,” I said. “A lot of people stay with a job for their co-workers, not for the company.”

“Especially when that company’s bein’ stupid.” Sully punctuated it by spitting instead of using an exclamation point.

I listened while they worked and wondered if it was more than rain that brought me to Chattanooga. It seemed to me that there might be a wrong here in need of righting.

When we broke for lunch, I went over to that bank with Max. He said he needed to bring his wife something, but I think he was just checking on her. The bank wasn’t but a couple miles up the road. The building was small, sitting on a corner. The front was glass windows and the rest brick.

We stepped inside and the air conditioning slapped me in the face. The set up was pretty standard for a bank. There was the long, wood grain counter with room for four tellers. Only two were open and both had customers. The corner office was plain by anyone’s standards. It had a desk that faced the wall of windows with two chairs in front of it. A bookcase sat against the solid wall. It had a few framed things, one might have been a diploma, and some books. It was mostly empty shelf.

“That’s the new guy,” Max said with some salt on his words. “His name’s Brandon Marlow.

Behind the desk was a man. He leaned back in the chair, his desk phone pinned between his ear and shoulder. He tossed a pint-sized basketball into the air.

The office next door was skinnier by a quarter and had no windows. The woman at that desk looked intently at her monitor, her fingers moving over the keyboard. She must have liked what she saw because she grinned. She turned her head, saw Max, and that grin turned into a smile.

Or maybe the smile turned into a grin. Not sure which is bigger.

“That’s my wife,” he said as she rose. “Michelle.”

“I figured.”

Her phone musta rang because she gave us the international symbol to wait and pick up the handset. For everything Max and Sully said, Michelle looked happy. She sat back in her chair, those fast fingers working like lightning over her keyboard, laughing at whatever she heard.

“Angie,” Brandon Marlow said, leaning out of his office. “Come in here and show me where we keep the loan reports for last year.”

A woman sitting at a desk not in an office rolled her eyes, stood, and turned toward the office. “Maybe if you wrote it down this time.”

“It’s not my fault the filing system is so complicated.”

Max snorted. “Typical.”

Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. There are times I’d sooner throw a computer out the window than use it and I don’t consider it an issue on my side.

Michelle came out of her office, her face bright enough to read by. “Well, what a nice surprise. What did do to deserve this?”

Max waited for her to cross the open floor, then kissed her temple. “Just wanted you to meet Hippy. He’s out here helping us and Ron for a few days. He’s from Indiana.”

Just like I thought. He didn’t need to bring her nothing. “Nice to meet you, Michelle.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” she said. “How long are you going to be in Chattanooga?”

“Two days. Maybe three. That’s the most my bike tolerates being in one place.”

She laughed and put her hand on mine. “Why don’t you come to dinner tonight? It’s nothing fancy, just chicken and whatever I decide to put with it.”

“Michelle.” Her name was said by Brandon Marlow.

You know when you’re reading a book and it says a person’s face fell and you’re like, faces don’t fall. Well, Michelle’s did. One minute, she was a bright, joyful woman and the next it was like a shadow came over her and sucked away all that light.

She shifted and looked his way. “Yes, Brandon?”

“Can you come in here? There’s something I don’t understand about these projections.”

“Of course, he doesn’t.” She turned back to us on a long, quiet sigh. “Dinner will be ready about six.”

Dinner with Max and his family was a nice way to end a productive day. The weather was kind to us and Ron’s crews had gotten farther than we hoped, thanks to a trick or two of mine. We would be pouring concrete tomorrow. I had it ordered for seven.

I had twelve whole hours until I had to worry about that.

Over chicken smothered in a sauce, I dug in on Michelle’s problem. “What do you do?” I asked, acting dumb. “It must be impressive to have an office.”

She rolled her eyes. “Financial forecasting and analysis.” She giggled at my reaction. “It guess it does sound boring, but I love numbers.”

“You must have some fancy title, I’m guessing. Let me guess. . .” I drew it out. “Vice president of forecasts.”

This time, she outright laughed. “I wish. I have the very beige title of Data Analyst.” She shrugged, glanced at Max. “I guess I don’t have the right equipment to have VP after my name.”

He covered her hand. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“The man in the corner office? He’s new,” she said, then filled me in on the story and the details Sully didn’t know.

“Who gave him the job?” I asked. “Somebody must have hired him.”

“Our illustrious Assistant VP was hired by our uninspiring VP. Wilson Maddox.” She played with her food, her fork chasing the rice around the plate. “He works out of the main office, downtown.” The fork started stabbing at the rice. “He comes to our branch like once a month, his nose up in the air like it smells bad. He never gets Angie’s name right. Alice. Agnes. Anna.” She threw the fork down, metal slapping against porcelain. “I mean, how hard is it to remember someone’s name?”

“It isn’t hard,” I said. “And it is important. That’s how you show people you see them.”

“That is exactly his problem, Hippy. Maddox doesn’t see anyone who isn’t a White male with a degree from a school that’s been in the Men’s Final Four in the last decade. I worked damn hard for my degree and I’m damn good at my job. But does he see it?”

“Nope,” Max said, realizing it wasn’t a rhetorical question.

Michelle picked up the fork again. I leaned back. Just in case.

“No, he does not. Because he doesn’t want to. He comes into our branch and looks at us like we’re Mayberry and he’s Charlotte. Well, he is not. And I would put my forecast up against anyone’s.”

Max rested his hand on Michelle’s forearm. “Take it easy, honey. Getting riled doesn’t help.”


I made an appointment with Wilson Maddox for later the next day. I wanted to put eyes on him myself. The day’s work had been another good one, and I still wore a good portion of it on my clothes. I coulda cleaned up some, but I wanted to see his reaction.

Disturbed was the best word I could come up with. He wasn’t disgusted, like dirt and dust appalled him. He just didn’t want it in his world. He definitely didn’t want it in his office.

“Me and my crew are building a bank,” I said, thinking as fast as I was talking. “There’s something not right about the layout but I build banks, not work in them. One of the crew, his wife Michelle works up in your Lookout Mountain branch. She gave me the idea of talking to you.”

“Michelle? In our Lookout branch?” His eyebrows did that knitting thing, then he put two and two together and came up with four. “The analyst. She suggested you talk to me?”

“It didn’t go like that,” I said. “It was my idea.” I went into asking him a whole bunch of questions about banks that didn’t matter. I snuck in a few that did. I’ll give him credit, he talked to me for a full thirty minutes, only shuttling me out when his computer sounded with his 15-minute warning.

You know that sound, Outlook users.

I drove to Ruby Falls, finding a spot of beauty to do my thinking. Here’s where I was. Wilson Maddox was not a total asshole. He wasn’t mean or cruel, but he was blind. He had these ideas of perfect and anyone who didn’t fit the mold, he didn’t see. Unlike some others, he wasn’t emotional about it. He didn’t hate anyone. He just overlooked and went on.

I suspected, if I had asked the question, he would even had said it was for the benefit of the bank.

The question was. . . how to help him see the light in Michelle and everyone else he looked over?

The next day was slow while the concrete came up to strength. Ron was so thrilled, he only balked a little when I asked if I could borrow a few things from his yard.

“No trouble, Hippy.” Ron knew me.

I lit a cigarette. “Ron, would I ever do anything that could blow back on you?”

He lowered his head and nearly growled. “That is not the same thing as no trouble.”

“We are going to have to agree to disagree, brother.”

Ron left then, because, like I said, he was a smart man. A few minutes later, Max and Sully pulled up. We put what we needed in the bed of Max’s truck and stopped at a hardware store for everything else.

We arrived at Wilson Maddox’s house in a nice Chattanooga suburb. How did I get his address? I didn’t. Max’s teenage son did. Apparently, you really can find anything on the internet these days.

We parked in his driveway, middle of the day. Rang the doorbell to make sure no one was home. No one was, but they had one of those doorbells with the camera. I waved. The way the house was laid out, the camera couldn’t see around the big three car garage. We left, drove around the block, and parked back in the driveway on the far side.

We climbed out of the truck. I nodded to a runner going by and we got to work.


Max and I were sitting in his truck at five the next morning in the driveway of a house under construction. With the stagger of the houses, we had a full view of the one Wilson Maddox owned. We sipped coffee, glancing at the dark windows, waiting for Maddox’s alarm to go off.

At 6:10, an annoying beeping came through the speaker that had Max and I both jumping.

Maddox was awake.

There was still some twenty minutes until dawn. The sky was dark, but color tinted the eastern horizon. It wouldn’t be enough.

The windows in the master bedroom remained dark. A light came on three windows down, the last we could see. The master bathroom.

We listened to the man take his morning piss.

We heard the rush of pressurized water when the shower turned on. More water with the sink. The sink turned off. Then came the sound of bearings rolling.

Singing came over the speaker.

“He’s in the shower,” Max said, pulling a control box into his lap. “You ready?”

He was singing America the Beautiful and not doing a bad job of it. “Let’s give him a few seconds. I like this song.”

Max did a double take. “You serious?”

“Well, yeah. You ever listen to the words,” I asked. “They’re true.”

I waited patiently for Maddox to reach from sea to shining sea. Max waited, but not patiently.

“All right,” I said. “Now.”

Max hit the first button. “The door is locked. And,” second button, “lights are out.”

“What the…what the fuck?!” Surprise was Maddox’s first reaction, but it quickly turned to panic. “I can’t see. I’m blind. I’M BLIND!”

Maddox was experiencing the result of the film we installed over his windows that, this time of day, let no light into the room. With the power cut, he was in the pitch of dark.

“You are blind,” I said slowly into the microphone.

“Oh my God!” he shouted over the water.

“Yes?” I used my best God voice, like I was Charlton Heston or something. Don’t know who he is? Look it up?

“Who. . . who are you?”

“You know who the fuck I am.”

“You. . . but. . . God, you just said fuck?!?”

“’Cause I’m pissed Wilson Maddox and I’m pissed at you.”

“Me?” He squeaked. “No, I’ve been good. I go to church. I know I missed a few but—”

“You really think putting a check mark in the church column fixes what you did?”

“What I did?” There was a pause. He was thinking. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been working a lot lately. I haven’t had time to get in trouble.”

“That Wilson Maddox is where you are wrong.” I let silence ring out because it’s scary shit.

“Wh-what have I done?” He asked slowly, afraid, then picked up his speed. “Whatever it is, I’ll make it better. I promise. I’ll fix whatever I did.”

“What you did was overlook the potential of my children.” That seemed like a God-thing to say. “In this bank of yours, I have given you the power to lead and instead of doing it with insight and strength, you do it with fear.”

“Fear?” he croaked. “I don’t understand.”

“Think back over those you have hired, those you have promoted. Tell me what you see.” I didn’t know who the hell he’d hired, but I could guess.

“Oh,” he said humbly, then found his spine. “But each of those—”

“What is the name of the customer service lady at the Lookout branch?”

That threw him. “Who? Wait….wait, I know this. Amy!”

“Angie,” I snapped. “Say it with me. Angie!”

“Angie,” he shouted.

“Angie,” I roared.

“Angie,” he whimpered. “Angie. Angie. Angie. I won’t forget again.”

“I know you won’t.” I sighed. “What am I going to do with you, Wilson? You’ve allowed yourself to become blind. The world is a beautiful place because I have made each person different. But you, you  want there to be only one kind of donut in the box.”

Max looked at me like I was crazy.

He wasn’t wrong, but I was on a roll.

Or a donut.

“Donuts?” Maddox’s voice was laced with confusion. “God, I don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Think about if all the donuts were jelly filled. There’d be strawberry stains on every other shirt. Except for the people who are allergic to strawberry, they’d be dead. Same with diabetics. All because of you Maddox.”

“No,” he wailed. “God. No.”

“That is uncool, brother.”

“How do I fix things?” he cried. “Tell me what I need to do. I want more donuts in the box. I swear I do.”

Max elbowed me.

I flipped the microphone off.

“Tell him to give Michelle a promotion.”

I shook my head. “Can’t. He’ll get suspicious. He’ll know. She needs to call him. Today. She needs to stand up for herself. Now, stay quiet.” I slid the switch back on. “You committed the crime, Wilson. You have to rebalance the scales. And however you do it, know. . . I’ll be watching.”

“I’ll do it God. You’ll see. I’ll have a box of a dozen mixed. Glazed and chocolate. A long john. Bavarian, blueberry. Plain and with nuts. You’ll see. I’ll have so many nuts, you’ll think we’re in Georgia instead of Tennessee.

I turned the microphone off. “Alright, turn his lights back on.”

Max did. Immediately, we heard Maddox’s relief. It was a happy, crying that attracted his wife’s attention. Kinda reminded me of that scene in Scrooge, after he comes back from that visit with the ghost of Christmas future, which by the way is fucked up. Why is Christmas future the grim reaper?

A truck pulled up next to us. A guy looking like us lifted his hand. Max went to talk to him, I followed. Bunch a minutes later, we left, playing off like we were at the wrong job. We’d come back later to remove the film over the windows and the other shit we wired up.

Or not.


I called Teresa from the privacy of Ron’s guest room. I’d just finished off a maple donut for dessert. “What kind of trouble did you cause today,” she asked.

“Only the good kind,” I said. “Hey, Teresa, the more I think about running over Dexter Green, the less it makes sense.”

“What do you mean?”

“I should have seen him. If he was standing there, in the middle of my usual parking spot, I would have seen him when I pulled in. I would have seen him when I turned the truck around. I would have seen him in the backup camera.”

Teresa took her time, thinking about it. “It was early, wasn’t it? Dark?”

“No more than any other day.”

“I’m going to call my cousin,” she said. “He’s with the Sheriff here in Blackford County. Maybe he can make a call. Don’t do anything that will get you in a newspaper for the next few days. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am. Teresa? I love you.”

“I love you, too, you old hippy.”

After Stuff

Lots of donuts were harmed in the making of this episode. It was necessary. Research and all of that crap.

This is fiction, but some was inspired by things that really happened. Most of them to Hippy. Thank you to Adrian for the story that inspired Maddox’s lesson.

Hey to Josh. Keeping your seat warm. See you soon. Godspeed.

Hippy Saves the World Episode 4: Bad

Time and my bike both wandered south. The scenery changed gradually from the small sprouts and vivid greens of the Northern late Spring to the full blooms and deep greens of a Southern Summer. It’s one of those little things you don’t notice when you sit still, but on the highway, nature isn’t just background. No, it’s a full character in its own story.

Speaking of characters and stories, it was closing in on a week since I killed Dexter Green. Saying it more often wasn’t making it easier to swallow. The more I think on it, dream on it, I don’t know how it happened. The parking spot was empty when I turned the truck around. I know it was. It had to be or I’da hit him full on. And I didn’t. I backed into him.

So where did he come from?

I was south of Natchez, Mississippi, following 10 toward Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My heart will always be in Indiana, by my stomach was born Cajun. I don’t claim to know how it happened, with the rest of me being from Blackford County, but my stomach was never happier than when it was working on étouffée, jambalaya, gator, crawfish…

Hear that? My stomach just growled.

The sign on the side of the road announced St. Francisville some miles ahead. I knew my bike was taking me back to some of the best memories Teresa and I had. You see, being in construction has afforded me the opportunity to see a good part of this great nation of ours. I spent a bunch of years working in Louisiana on all kinds of projects. I brought Teresa down here for vacations. Like I said, the eating is phenomenal. The hunting and fishing are world class, just like the people. One of our favorites was a lady named Anne Butler. She runs a bed and breakfast on her family’s plantation: the Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B.

I smiled those next miles, feeling a little like I was going home.

I slowed and turned off US 61 onto a drive lined with big old oak trees with their arms stretched out. Spanish moss hung down, creating a private tunnel where even sunlight couldn’t quite get through.

The blue house with butter cream trim, with it’s long, wide front porch and peaks over the second floor windows, was just as I remembered. A woman was on the front steps, a broom in hand. She’d stopped sweeping to watch me.

I parked at the end of the narrow brick walkway to the house, turned the motor off, and swung my leg over. She watched me and I her as I stowed my helmet. “Beautiful day,” I said, starting toward her.

“It is that. Welcome to Butler Greenwood.” Her smile was broad and welcoming, just as I remembered. “I’m Anne, what can I do for you?”

I told her who I was and when I was there last. She said she remembered me, which I didn’t doubt. I’m kinda a memorable guy. “I’m passing through and was hoping you had a bed I could use for a couple nights.”

“I do, with it being the middle of the week. Come on inside.” She turned and led me into the house. “How long have you been ridin’? You like somethin’ to drink? I have some fresh made lemonade or sun tea.”

Now there was a hard decision. The nice punch of real lemon or the kick of caffeine.

Anne seemed to hear the debate going on in my head. She laughed and said, “Arnold Palmer it is. I’ll be right back.” A man entered from a side hallway. “Hello Wyatt, this is Hippy. He just checked in. Would you like to join us in Arnold Palmers?”

The man was in his fifties, his dark hair just starting to get a little salty. He was average height with a build that said he earned his money behind a desk. “Thank you, Anne, that sounds perfect,” he said in an accent born in these parts.

We made our way to the sitting area and the Victorian-styled couches that were as much as much a part of the décor as they were functional. Wyatt Cambridge was a writer and Butler Greenwood Plantation was his retreat.

“I’m on a deadline. At home, I find all kinds of things to distract me from sitting down and working. Something about this place,” he said, looking around, “it’s like she’s my muse, you know.”

“I don’t know much about muses,” I said, “but I know what you mean about Anne’s place being special.”

“Anne is a writer, too. Her tastes are more varied than mine. Louisiana main streets, cookbooks, children’s fiction, true crime.” He chuckled at himself. “I wish I could do that. My head seems to get into one space and stay there.”

“And where does it stay?”

He leaned forward, his eyes shining. “Thrillers. I absolutely love putting characters in inescapable situations and see what they do to survive.”

It was a look that made me glad he played with words, not power tools.

“Here we go,” Anne said, setting a fancy silver tray down on the coffee table between us. She was an excellent hostess, helping Wyatt and me find things to talk about so the conversation never got dull. Not that I’ve ever had that problem.

People are too interesting for talking to get dull.

It turned out Wyatt had just gotten up and he was hungry. I’d been on the road for hundreds of miles and was hungry too. After thanking Anne for the tea, the writer and me took a short drive to Lawson’s Restaurant. It didn’t have the history Anne’s place did, but it had a reputation locals worked their butts off to keep secret. Lucky for me, Wyatt was local.

I climbed in his truck because he wasn’t climbing on my bike. He drove while I took in the scenery, not having to pay attention to the road. The restaurant was small and didn’t look like much. The parking lot was near empty, but it was an odd time between lunch and dinner. Me and Wyatt took seats at the counter. Wyatt pushed his menu away without opening it. “Go with the special,” he advised. “Doesn’t matter what it is. If Louie’s making it, you want to eat it.”

Being a man who believes in the “when in Rome” saying, I pushed my menu away.

The special of the day was crawfish étouffée with a slice of peach pie. Middle of the afternoon, there were only a handful of folks in the place. More than half had the special in front of them.

Wyatt ordered a Pepsi, me a Mountain Dew. The difference ended there. We ordered and those sitting to the left and right of us approved of our choices. The guy next to me, Earl if his shirt was to be believed, pushed his licked-clean plate away.

Me and Wyatt filled the time. I asked what his book was about, and he started telling. I’d been in his character’s position a few times in my life—up shit’s creek without a paddle. I shared how I got out of it and Wyatt, well, he was more than listening. He took out his phone and made notes.

The waitress set a large slice of peach pie with whipped cream on top in front of Earl. “Ohhh,” he said in a hungry growl of appreciation. “Love peach season in Louisiana.”

He dove in like a half-naked man on the high dive in front of Olympic judges.

Then somewhere in the middle, he lost his form and ended up cannonballing into the water.

I slapped him on the back to help clear what he choked on.

“Earl, for goodness sakes,” the waitress said running over. “Small bites, darlin’. Small bites.”

“That ain’t it,” Earl said when he could breathe again. He shoved the pie plate away. “Something’s wrong with the pie. It’s gone bad.”

She shook her head. “Not possible, Earl. Maude just made the pies his morning.”

“Well, you taste it and tell me that’s normal.”

So, she did.

And she spit it right back out. “Oh my. I don’t know what to say.” She removed the offending slice of pie and went to the pie rack behind the counter. The slice she served Earl was the first taken from that particular pie.

A man with the belt size you want in a chef came out carrying two plates with sides of bread. “Maggie, what are you doing out here? Didn’t you hear me ring that food was up?” Louie set the plates in front of me and Wyatt.

“Somethins wrong with the pies,” the waitress Maggie said in a whisper we could all hear.

“Can’t be,” Louie said, immediately rejecting the idea. “You’ve been serving them all day.”

“Earl’s was the first slice from the ones Maude made this mornin’. I tasted it, Louie. Somethins rotten in there.”

Louie grabbed a fork from the tray and, skeptic that he was, took a big old mouthful.

At least he turned away from us before he spit it out.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Maude,” he said sadly. “Take the peach off the menu—”

“But, Louie, it’s peach season!”

“We can’t. We’ll poison half the Parish,” he said, stating the obvious. “Check the apple and the rest first, then change the menu.”

Drama resolved, Wyatt and I dug into our specials. What Louie did in the kitchen would be rightfully described as art. If I was a little disappointed there was no peach pie in my future, the homemade spiced goodness in front of me wiped it away.

“Someone has to do something about Maude,” Earl said, begrudgingly accepting a slice of apple pie. “I would bet you the world the problem with the pie is those kids of hers.”

“Again?” Wyatt asked. “I thought her brother talked to them.”

“Talkin’” Earl said with a snort. “You can’t talk to deadwood and expect the world to change.”

“So true,” I said.

“I’ve a mind to pay her a visit.” Earl’s tone changed to worried. “Just to check in.”

Wyatt elbowed me. “We’ll come with you. Give us a few minutes here.”

In the time it took me and Wyatt to clean our plates, the two gave me the rundown on Maude’s situation. Her husband died about a decade ago. He’d put aside enough for her to get by. They always thought she was the best baker in West Feliciana Parish but then she went and won blue ribbons across the State. Now everyone knew Maude Fontenot was Louisiana’s peach pie queen.

She had two children. Her son, Marc, and daughter, Claudine, were in their forties with lives of their own. Marc was an independent insurance agent with a shiny convertible wrapped in a big picture of his face. Claudine stayed home, being a full-time mother to twin girls who were starting their senior year of high school. Putting it together, Maude wasn’t much older than me, though her kids were younger than mine.

Wyatt followed Earl, turning off the main road and then off the side road to a narrow strip of worn down ground only locals would consider a road. Maude’s house sat behind two oak trees with long drapes of moss. A large branch had fallen some time ago. It was half sunk into the earth and was in the process of being reclaimed by plants and critters.

The house was similar style to Anne’s main building, though roughly half the size. Most of the living was done on the first floor with two windows framed by peaks on the second floor. The porch was low and wide with a single tall back wicker chair near the front door.

From afar, it was charming. Up close, it needed work. I’m not judging, here, just describing that the home of Maude Fontenot was in need of new boards, some nails, paint, shingles, and the like.

Earl knocked on the screen door and announced himself. “Maude? It’s Earl LeBlanc.” He walked in then, Wyatt and me following. “You here, Maude.”

A woman poked her head into the hallway. “Earl?” She smiled as her small body stepped fully into the hall. “Well, isn’t this a nice surprise? Come in, come in. What can I get you? Coffee? Tea? How about a nice slice of peach pie?”

Earl tripped over a crack in the floor, but Wyatt picked it up smoothly. “If it isn’t too much trouble. This is Hippy, he’s from Indiana. Earl and I were telling him that he hasn’t had peach pie until he’s had yours.”

Maude liked that. She stood a little taller and escorted us into the kitchen. “You come right this way, Hippy. Rest your bones after such a long trip.” Like the outside of the house, repairs were needed. There was water damage in a corner of the ceiling, and something had snacked on some of the baseboard trim. But the room was cleaned ‘til it shined.

I liked Maude instantly. You’d have to be a heartless bastard not too. She brewed coffee made strong with chicory and served it beside four slices of pie. “Fresh made this morning,” she said.

Me, Earl, and Wyatt looked between each other.

“Go on, now,” she said, sitting down herself and taking a bit of pie. The color drained from her face. “Oh, no. How could I make such a stupid mistake?”

“It isn’t that bad,” Earl lied.

Maude glanced at him. A sharp woman, she knew. “The pies I sent to Louie’s. How many people?”

“Just me,” Earl said, not lying. “Louie and Maggie pulled the rest. They won’t tell no one.”

“Us neither,” Wyatt added quickly. “We were worried about you, Maude. That’s why we came.”

She squeezed his hand. “I have good friends. I was filling the pies this morning when Claudine came to visit. She is having dresses made for the girls for a cotillion. Claudine was short this month and needed help with the down payment to the dress maker. I told her no. We ain’t rich. If she wanted that kind of haute couture, she had to pay for it herself.” Maude hands trembled. “Well, that did not go over well, as you can imagine. Somewhere in all of it, I mixed up the sugar and salt. Stupid, stupid mistake.”

Maude aged ten years in telling the story. The happy, proud woman was reduced to embarrassed, ashamed.

“It was a mistake,” Wyatt said. “In a few weeks, you’ll look back and laugh. Mistakes make the best stories. No one wants to hear about the time everything went perfectly like it was supposed to.”

“You and yours stories,” Maude said, stopping when the sound of a performance engine came through the open windows. “That’ll be Marc.” She rose, smoothed her dress, and fixed a small smile on her face. “Well, it’s a day for surprises,” she called when he stepped onto the back porch.

Marc was dressed in a collared shirt and pressed pants and didn’t hide a disappointed expression. “Momma,” he said, coming into the kitchen and going to kiss Maude’s cheek. “I didn’t know you’d be entertainin’.”

“What entertainin’,” she said. “It’s just a few friends. You know Earl and Wyatt, and this is Hippy. He’s here all the way from Indiana.”

“Nice to meet you,“ I said. “Your mother is a charming woman.”

“She is,” he said, already done with me. “Momma, can I speak to you in the other room?”

Maude’s fake smile slipped. “Is something wrong?”

“No, ‘course not. It’s just family business.”

We couldn’t stop Maude from leaving the kitchen and Marc was bound and determined she would. The house wasn’t big and every door in it was open. With the three of us doing impressions of church mice, we heard every word the son-of-a-bitch said.

What a minute. That’s not right, ‘cause than would be Maude was a bitch. Let’s try again. . .

With the three of us doing impressions of church mice, we heard every work the asshole in insurance salesman’s clothes said.

“You promised you’d write the check,” Marc said in a tone a son should never use with his mother.

“I did not. You said I should write the check.”

“Well, I need it. Now.”

“Then go to a bank,” Maude said sharply, standing her ground.

“I can’t go to a bank. Where’s Daddy’s coin collection?”

“You are not touching your father’s things.”

“I’m going to inherit them eventually. What is the difference?”

“The difference is I’m not dead yet!”

The three of us were standing. I regretted not stopping at the Plantation for the Ka-Bar knives in my saddlebags. This boy needed a lesson.

“I can’t believe you. This conversation’s not over, Momma. I’ll be back for dinner. We’ll talk about it then.” The front screen door slammed shut.

Maude didn’t come back into the kitchen.

Quietly, the three of us went into her front parlor. Maude stood in the picture window, hands fisted, head bowed. Wyatt called her name. She shook her head without turning around.

We knew, we all knew.

She cried.

Maude rode with Earl back to Anne’s. She settled into the room next to Wyatt’s and, between the three of us, she was set for the next few nights. While Anne tended to Maude, Earl, Wyatt and I contemplated her children.

“I know I’m new here but what I see is elder abuse. The sneaky, sleezy financial kind where the people who should be looking out most for Maude are bleeding her dry.” I looked from Wyatt to Earl. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

It was Earl who spoke first. “You’re not, but what can we do about it? She’s not going to go against her kids, and it won’t look like anything to the police.”

Wyatt agreed. “It’ll be our word against theirs and Maude will be stuck in the middle.”

I smiled. “That’s why we’re not going to the cops. We are going to teach those kids a lesson. Where can we find some climbing rope, fifty pounds of raw meat, and a couple of alligators?”

Wyatt was an artist, a creative type. What he lacked in mechanical capacity, he made up for in creativity. More than made up for. His idea was better than mine. More twisted if that’s possible.

Earl, it turned out, was a former ocean freight captain. He had skills that were illegal in some countries. He’d dealt with pirates, real ones. A couple greedy, grown-up children were tiny little blips on his radar.

And then you had me. An old contractor who specialized in getting in and out of tight places.

We split up, each with a shopping list. Earl’s son, Junior, met me at the hardware store. It took less than a half hour to fill the bed of his truck. He pulled around Maude’s house, picking out a choice spot under the thick branches of an old oak. For two strangers, we worked together well, building a six-sided pen that wasn’t sturdy enough to be permanent but would do the job.

Junior took on the job of climbing the tree, moving with the speed and confidence of a man used to being off his feet. He tested the strength of the tree limbs with his weight. I did the figuring and the rigging.

By the time his father and Wyatt arrived, we had our part ready.

“Shouldn’t we have something cooking in the kitchen,” Wyatt asked, shaking his hands to get rid of nervous energy. “They think they’re coming for dinner.”

“You can go ahead and cook if it makes you feel better,” I said, leaning back on a kitchen chair.

Wyatt opened the refrigerator and got busy. “What if Claudine brings her girls?”

“She won’t,” Earl said. “Maude stuck to the script. If we’re right and she is only interested in the money, she’ll come alone.”

A quarter to eight, the sun was getting close to the horizon. Blue was tending toward night to the east while the west was painted in all the colors of the rainbow.

Well, not green. But all the others.

We finished off the pork chops and gravy Wyatt fried up, each of us putting some bills on the table to repay Maude.

Earl put on his hat. “Come on, Junior. Time to get in position. They should be here in ten minutes or so.” Junior pulled on his own hat and followed his father out the back door.

“You know what you’re gonna do?” I asked Wyatt. In some ways, he had the hardest job.

“Not exactly, but I’ll get it done. Y’all just be ready.”

I left him to my own work. I double checked the rigging, making as sure as I could that everything was under control.

An engine approached. It was the same, smooth sound as in the afternoon. Marc Fontenot was in the house.

“Hey, Marc,” Wyatt called from the front of the house. “That is one beautiful car.”

“Wyatt.” Marc spat the name like a curse. “What are you doing here?”

“Maude invited me. Hey, can you help me with some firewood? Your mom thought a bon fire would be nice tonight.”

Wyatt came up the path next to the house, Marc trailing him to the large, neat stack of firewood. Wyatt filled Marc’s arms with wood which was when Earl and Junior set on him. Marc fought, but it was wasted energy. He was got. When he couldn’t overpower the men, well, he made enough noise to wake the dead.

Another engine neared, this one not nearly as smooth.

“Junior, Wyatt, get him in the house,” I ordered, revising the plan on the fly. “Earl, we’ll have to handle her.”

Marc shouted for his mother and then his sister as Junior bodied him into the house. The screen door slapped shut and that was the end of Marc’s noise. Earl sauntered up the driveway, stopped behind Marc’s car. He waited patiently for Claudine to kill the motor and get out of her vehicle.

“Hey, Earl, what are you doin here?” I couldn’t see her from where I was, but her voice was suspicious.

“Your mom invited me and Junior over for barbecue. I brought some steaks over from my cousin’s shop. We’re in the back.” He turned and started toward me.

Claudine followed him and soon I got a good look at her. She was her mother’s daughter, at least in looks. It was yet to be proven how far the peach had fallen from the tree. “I thought she wanted a private, family dinner?”

Earl shrugged. “Guess she changed her mind. Your brother’s in the house. This is Hippy. He’s from Indiana. Hippy, this is Claudine, Maude’s daughter.”

“Nice to meet you.” I held out my hand.

Claudine was the kind of woman who put make-up on whether she was leaving the house that day or not. She looked nice, and would be pretty when she smiled.

She wasn’t smiling now.

Good manners had been ingrained in her. So, want to or not, Claudine took my hand.

And Earl took her.

His arms locked around her, Earl lifted Claudine off her feet and carried her toward the stage we’d built. “Junior, bring Marc out.”

Marc marched out the back door, his hands up and his mouth shut. The cooperation came courtesy of a Colt .45 in his lower back. Earl stepped onto the stage we made and went to the chairs from Maude’s dining room. With higher backs and arm rests, they were made for the head of the table. Earl tossed Claudine into one.

“The other one is for you,” Junior said, giving him a shove.

I went behind the big tree, started the generator, then stood next to it, control box in my hand.

Claudine studied the four lengths of rope attached to her chair. In the dark shadows of the trees, the black ropes were invisible. “What the hell is this,” she spat.

“I don’t know,” Marc bit out, then looked to Wyatt, who stood front and center. “Where’s our mother?”

“With someone who cares for her. Don’t worry, she knows you’re here.” A small smile played at the corner of his mouth.

If I were them, I’d be afraid.

Marc sneered at him. “Whatever this is about, I’m not playing.”

He went to stand up, but I was faster. The ropes snapped taut and the chairs lifted into the air. It was only six inches, but Claudine screamed like it was a mile.

“What the fuck?!” Marc shouted while Claudine ordered, “Put us down.”

I raised the chairs slowly. Those two weren’t tied in. I did my best to make the lift smooth and balanced but they could be tipped. Junior and I proved it during testing. Lean to far in any direction and gravity did what gravity was wont to do.

So slow was the order of the evening. For now.

One foot. Two feet. Four feet.

Junior and Earl worked quickly, pulling the plywood flooring off the frame. The four gators, each good six footers, twisted and turned, leaping and snapped at the sudden change in environment.

“Holy shit! Holy fucking shit!” Marc screamed over and over, his head and body twisting until his chair looked like one of those swing rides at a fair.

“Stop, Marc! You’re gonna crash into me.” Claudine pulled her feet up and when her brother did swing her way, she kicked out at his chair. Then she glowered down at us. “Why are you doing this? What did we ever do to you?”

“Why do you think it’s acceptable to steal from your mother?” Wyatt asked the question, calm and civil.

“I never stole a dime.” Claudine leaned forward, hands on the front ropes.

“I didn’t either,” Marc shouted, leaning back, less sure of his weight.

Wyatt waved his hand, rolling it as though bored. “Whined. Begged. Coerced. Guilted. Pleaded. Tricked. Implored. Beseeched. She may have given it, but it wasn’t willingly. Drop them down, Hippy.”

I hit the down button, letting it go for one Mississippi of a second before punching the stop button.

They made as much noise as a pair of humans could, but there was noone but us to hear them.

“Shut. Up,” Wyatt ordered. “Do we have your attention?”

“I know where you live Wyatt Cambridge. You think long and hard about that before you do anything else.” Marc’s bravado was as solid as smoke. He barked with authority though, even foaming at the mouth some.

“And I know where you live, Marc Fontenot,” Wyatt said calmly. Then he shook his head. “What would your Daddy think of the way the two of you have been milking your mother? You have a lot to answer for and even more to be ashamed of.”

“Fuck y’all,” he said, pumping his legs to start his chair to swinging. “You have no say in our lives. No say in our mother’s.”

“Marc. Marc!” Claudine screamed over him. “Stop moving. The tree limb. I think it’s cracking.”

The two of shut up. All of our eyes were on the branch Marc hung from.

It was creaking all right.

Wyatt took advantage of the break to interrogate the witnesses. They didn’t deny what they did, siphoning money off their mother. But in their version of the world, this waan’t a problem. Their father had left a nice amount of savings, it was their inheritance. The house was paid off and between her pies and social security, their mother had enough to pay the bills.

What more did she need?

But them? They had needs.

Marc was over-extended on his business. Oh, he called it re-investing but, in plain English, he spent money he didn’t have. He already went to the bank. They were one of those knocking on his door for payment.

Claudine was under the delusion that she was re-living her teen years through her daughters. She talked in the ‘we’. When we do college visits…it matters what dress we wear to the dance…we can’t be seen in clothes from big box stores. We have standards to live up to!

The sky had been fully night for some time when Wyatt looked to Earl and then to me. “Shut her down, Hippy. We aren’t getting anywhere.”

“Finally, you’ve come to your senses,” Claudine said. “When the police hear about this stunt, your next chair is in a jail cell.”

I did shut the generator down and I locked the gear into position on the winch, leaving their feet hanging about four feet above the gators.

“You boys meet me back here around seven,” Earl said. “I promised I’d have these guys back home by ten tomorrow. Come on, Junior. Let’s go home.”

And then there were two. Wyatt and me.

“You’re gonna let us down, aren’t you Wyatt?” Claudine asked, infusing charm in her drawl.

Wyatt took a deep breath and shook his head. “I knew your father. He was a good, hardworkin’ man. Your mother loves you both, somethin’ I’ve come to know you don’t deserve. You’re gonna spend some time, now, thinkin’ about how to make this right.”

Marc decided to try a little sugar, too. “Be reasonable, Wyatt. You can’t leave us danglin’ over a gator pit.”

The two of them sat up there, on their chair swings, looking like they were auditioning for a circus or something. They twisted, swung, and turned. A breeze came in, rocking the branch.

I chuckled. “It’s like that old nursery rhyme. Rock-a-bye baby in the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and Maude won’t have to worry about no one messing up her pies any more.”

Wyatt, he laughed. “I think you got something a little wrong there.”

“Seems to be about right to me. Let’s go check on Maude.”

“What about us,” Marc shouted to our backs. “I’m sorry. Claudine is, too. We’ll…we’ll figure out a way to repay Mom.”

Promises followed us as we walked down the driveway. Then they turned on each other, blaming, complaining, and denying as we climbed into Wyatt’s truck. His engine finally drowned them out.

“That was intense,” Wyatt said, grinning ear-to-ear when we were on the road. “Woo!”

“You did good for a writer. Nice and calm.”

“This is going in a book. Hell, yeah, it is.” He backed off the speed when we bounded hard enough to hit our heads on the dirt road. “You think they’ll be there in the morning? They fall out of those chairs and the gators aren’t going to be happy.”

I shrugged, not that Wyatt could see it. “It’s in their hands. Just like it always has been.”

Before turning in, I gave Teresa a call. Told her where I was and how the Butler Greenfield Plantation was everything we remembered. She told me about her day. I did the same.

“That’s all you did today? Rode, ate crawfish, and saw some gators?”

“Why do you sound suspicious,” I asked.

“That just sounds too normal for you. I’m not going to go online tomorrow and find you at the center of some fantastic story, am I? Did you try wrestling those gators or something?”

“That hurts, Teresa. I’m rubbing my heart to take away the sting.”

“Uh huh.”

“I met a coupla guys down here and helped them teach a lesson to adult children who never learned the one about not stealing. They were bad peaches, Teresa, and they were ruining the pies.”

“Do you hear how much sense you don’t make?” She sighed. “It’s been a week Hippy.”

“I know. I’m figuring it out.”

End Stuff

You probably can guess, but no alligators were harmed in the making of this episode. Can’t say the same for nasty children who steal from their parents.

The Butler Greenwood Plantation B&B is a real place and Hippy highly recommends it. Anne Butler is a real person and remarkably brave to let me and Hippy write her into this story. Thank you, Anne. Below are the links to Anne’s website. Check out her B&B and her books.

B&B Website: http://www.butlergreenwood.com/index.html

B&B Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063647916807

Books from UL Press: https://ulpress.org/search?q=anne+butler

Welcome to February, Josh. Remember Red Bull is not a food group. Godspeed.

Hippy Saves the World Episode 3: How

I left Memphis early, meeting the sun somewhere around Jackson as I stopped for breakfast. If you ever wonder if the food at a diner was any good, just look to the spread of asphalt outside. If it’s nothing but stripes, keep going. But if it’s wall-to-wall taillights and license plates, that is a place worth stopping at.

This diner had three empty spots. Near, far, and really far.

Near looked like an option but it wasn’t. Close to the entrance, a big old passenger van with Missouri plates parked three-quarters in one space and one-quarter in another.

It would have fit in one spot, but the driver either didn’t have the skills or thought they were special. I was leaning toward the first given the number of dents on the white body. The mess of a parking job left plenty of space for my Ultra Classic.

But you don’t park a thing of beauty next to an idiot.

Far looked like an option, too. There a man sat on the parking block, feet planted wide, elbows on knees. In one hand he held a to-go cup of coffee; in the other a cigarette. A drag. A sip. Another drag.

I respect a man enjoying his breakfast. There was no need to chase him out.

Really far wasn’t a space so much as a triangle patch at the end of the line. It was made for a bike.

My bike.

I parked and locked her then headed to the door, saying good morning to the coffee drinker on the way. Inside, the diner was hopping. I wanted the counter, but it was full. I settled for a table, taking the seat that let me see the whole place. People watching has always been a hobby of mine. Most people sat in two’s, like the diner was an ark and Noah himself seated them.

Two construction workers.

Two old men.

A mother and daughter, which still made two.

There was one group of eight, which sat as two tables of four. They were talking as much as they were eating as the waitress set the last of the plates on their table.

She left them for me. “Morning, Sunshine. Care for coffee?”

“Morning back to you,” I said back with as much enthusiasm as she gave to me. “Yes, to the coffee…Daisy.”

She smiled, showing off a perfect row of pearly white teeth. “We have a few specials this morning. The first is two eggs as you like ‘em with a side of biscuits and gravy. Then we have a—”

“The first is good for me,” I said, cutting off the list of things I didn’t want. Biscuits and gravy, well, that could have been my middle name.

“Miss? Miss? Could you bring more coffee?” The woman calling for Daisy was the mothering type. And the man she mothered was a tall and wore a suit.

He was a swan in a diner of ducks.

The twin quads – the two tables of four – became the entertainment I watched while I waited for my breakfast. The flock was made up of five women and three men. The swan was the center of attention, the ducks fussy about him. Every time the woman to his left went to take a bite of her pancakes, the swan interrupted.

Pass the salt. A pat of butter. Be a dear, two strawberry jams.

The twin quads kept Daisy hopping. Why was it that groups like them couldn’t get it together to ask for everything all at once?

When Daisy brought my breakfast, her disposition wasn’t quite so sunny. “Here you go, just as ordered.” She set two plates down with enough food to feed a crew. “Let me get you a warmup on the coffee and anything else?”

“It’s good Daisy,” I told her softly. “It’s all good.”

And it was. I’d put it second only to my own gravy.

My belly full, I paid my bill, gave Daisy a sunny tip, and rode east. It wasn’t long before a billboard caught my attention. A shooting range where you can bring your own or fire their collection of “old and unusual firearms.”

Bear Arms was a place for sportsman and lover of firearms. I count myself as both. My own guns were at home, so I had to take advantage of Bear Arms’ arsenal.

A 32 caliber Smith & Wesson No. 2 Army. A Colt Lightening 50 Express Carbine. A Peabody Martini Exhibition Grade Musket. A Winchester Model 1894 Rifle, a model I had in my own collection.

I spent a peaceful hour making all kinds of noise. The powerful release of gunpower and lead sung up my arm to my soul. It was that part of me that was hurting. I’d killed a man. Whether intentional or not, it was my wheels that ran over Dexter Green. My hand, or rather my foot on the gas pedal that killed him.

I took in a deep breath, looking to heaven as I rode. I have a tight relationship with God. I don’t expect he’s too happy with me right now. I know I wasn’t. Maybe the clean up I’d done in Memphis would count in my favor. I could only hope.

A couple hours later, I parked the Ultra Classic in another parking garage, this one attached to The Hermitage. In 1910, it cost a million dollars to build, which was probably something stupid like $110 million today. Now that I think of the costs of things, it was a pretty good deal.

The Hermitage was an architectural jewel, full of art and deco, marble and glass, arches and staircases. After checking in, I found a comfortable place in the main lobby to admire the scenery. I can do a lot of things, build nearly anything, but I can’t paint for shit. So, naturally, I respect the hell out of anyone who can. Given that my days were numbered, I took the time to appreciate the manmade beauty around me.

A couple about my age sat nearby talking about the prior day’s visit to the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Resort property. Teresa and I had been to Nashville years ago. We didn’t make it to the Opry, bad timing and all. So programmed the GPS, saddled back up, and made the short trip to the Grand Ole Opry.

The Opry is a performance hall, the roots of country music. It had re-invented itself more than a few times, keeping with the changes in style and technology. Nashville grew around it, including the Gaylord property with it’s small world inside our bigger one. It has a nice hotel with more than a few restaurants and a garden worth seeing whether you liked plants or not.

I bought the last ticket for the tour of the performance hall. It was a special ticket because of the behind the scenes peek at the stage and the seat to the show that came with it. If you weren’t aware, the Opry is a radio show. People traveled in from near and far to hear performances from country music stars past, present, and future.

Crossing the parking lot, one of those things that once you see, you can’t unsee, sat in front of me. It was luxury RV. On the side, in bold, colorful lettering was “Jesus Saves…and So Does Bob.”

I just shook my head. What else was there to do?

I walked on and through the awaiting door. To enter the Opry, you have to go through a metal detector. Not a surprise in this day and age, but something I wasn’t prepared for. A thin man in a security uniform slid a bowl to me. “Keys, chains, and so forth in the bowl, please. You can leave your belt and shoes on.”

I started emptying my pockets.


Chain to my wallet. I kept the wallet.

Pocket knife.

Ka-Bar knife I picked up in Memphis.

Six 30-caliber casings.

What was there to say? I looked up, waiting for the raised eyebrow and handcuffs. The guard took my bowl and handed it around his side of the metal detector. He didn’t say a word, so I walked through. It went off, so they wanded my belt and my boots. Then looked past me.

I turned, expecting to see someone wearing a badge.

I found a woman near to a hundred figuring out how to get her walker through the arch.

Another guard, the one who received my bowl, put it on a shelf and handed me a claim ticket. “The tour starts in the meeting room, down on the right.”

Huh. Not a word about the knives or the casings.

I took my time wandering down to the meeting room. I suppose with arrest imminent, half the people would spend time looking over their shoulder every twenty seconds. The other half would race point to point, never seeing the sights along the way. Me? I was in the third half, those who knew this, more than any other, was the time to smell the roses.

I studied the pictures. Artists I listened to. Some I sung along with. There was a lot of history in these walls. The pictures led to the meeting room minutes before the tour was to start. I entered and joined twenty-some others. About half were clustered in a group and who should be at the center but the swan from the diner. His ducklings were still fluttering around him.

The swan was dressed finely. He was tall, a good six-two. He wasn’t broad, which gave him the illusion of even more height, despite the size of his belly. His hair was styled with not a strand out of place. His cheeks were ruddy, laugh lines carved into the corners of his eyes. He wore a suit, one that had been tailored given the difference between his waist and his chest. He was a man of means.

His flock was just ordinary folks. The ladies wore dresses or nice pants with a blouse. The men for dress pants and button-down shirts. One wore a tie. They were neat and clean but there was a difference between the swan and his ducks.

The tour was led by a little blonde with a broad smile. “Hey y’all, gather round and we’ll get started. That’s right. Come in close. I don’t bite.”

We did as she said, surrounding the woman who couldn’t have broke five-foot tall. For the most part, people used their common sense, the taller letting the short up front.

The exception was the swan, who used an arm to sweep a woman behind him. It was the one who sat next to him at the diner. The one who he hadn’t let eat a bite without interruption.

“Welcome to the Grand Old Opry. I’m Dorothy and while this is not Oz, you should be prepared to be amazed.” Dorothy laid out the rules about staying with the group, keeping our hands to ourselves, and what we shouldn’t be doing with cell phones. Then we began to parade through the public and private spaces of the Opry.

“You were at the diner in Jackson,” said one of the ducks. “I’m Martin. We came all the way from Missouri.”

“Hippy,” I said, holding out my hand to shake his as I remembered the passenger van that took two spots at the diner. “I’m from a little bit of everywhere.”

Martin laughed. “I like that. Wish I could say the same.”

We started talking as strangers do. Been here before? No. Favorite country artist? Willy Nelson. Roy Clark. Porter Wagner. Johnny Cash. Wayland Jennings. Buck Owens. I could keep going.

Favorite song? See previous answer.

It was a pleasant conversation. One I enjoyed. Until the swan looked over his shoulder and saw Martin with me. Those waxed brows furrowed and he snapped his fingers. Martin looked guilty as a schoolboy and left me to take his place in the flock.

Our group continued down a corridor and stopped as Dorothy went into an elongated response to a question.

“Do you know where you’re going to spend eternity?”

The voice over my shoulder belonged to the swan. He looked down at me, both figuratively and literally.

“Yes, sir. I do,” I told him. “Do you?”

He tilted his head, a small grin on his face. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was more like he was royalty and I was a peasant. “I’m an ordained minister.I know where I’m going. Reverend Bob,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of me.”

I offered my hand. He accepted with a firm shake of a hand wearing two thick rings.

“Can’t say as I have. I’m Hippy,” I said. “Maybe you heard of me.”

His smile grew. “Mark this day on your calendar Mr. Hippy, because it is the day you are saved. It is the day you stood in the presence of the Lord’s greatness through his disciple and received his forgiveness.”

This man, with his fancy suit and waxed smile, stunk like a skunk. “How do you know I need forgiving?”

“We all come into this world needing forgiving,” he said. “We are human beings, born with the seed of evil. That seed grows as a man grows. Sins of the body, Hippy, those can be forgiven.”

Dorothy led our group on and we followed.

I’ve lived a long life and have made my peace with God. It took some time but what he said eventually got through this hard head of mine. I’ve been lucky to meet real people of God. People who give without ever asking for something in return. Preachers who bust their ass on the jobsite each day because the Lord’s gospels were their calling, not their paycheck.

I have stood in the presence of true goodness.

Which was why I knew exactly what Bob was.

“A water for you, Reverend Bob.” One of the ducks handed him a bottle. “Do you need anything else?”

Bob opened it and sipped. He sneered and handed it back. “It’s not cold.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Her face fell in embarrassment. “It must have gotten warm in my bag. Let me run back to the van and get one from the cooler.”

I waited for him to decline the offer. After all, we were in the middle of a tour. He did not. The woman left the tour group, heading out the way we had come in.

“Where are you going to spend eternity?” I asked him.

“At our Father’s side.” There was no hesitation in his voice, no doubt.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this man saw himself at the front of the line, but I was. He went on, talking about sacrifice and suffering, sins and forgiveness. The funny thing was, I got the impression, he wasn’t talking about himself. He was talking about everyone else.

The other man in his flock joined us. “Reverend Bob, did you—”

“Harry, can’t you see that I am in a conversation?” His tone was sharp as an ax and just as heavy.

“Sorry, Reverend. I’m sorry, sir,” he said to me.

“We’re good, Harry. I’m Hippy.”

Harry didn’t speak, looking to Reverend Bob for permission.

The Reverend didn’t give him the nod as his focus was on me. “You go to church, Hippy?”

Which was none of his business. “The world is my church and all in it my brothers.”

He snorted in laughter. “Godless men have only fire and brimstone to look forward to. Today truly is your lucky day.”

Now, it would have been easy to be insulted. What Bob didn’t get was that me and God, well, we were good. Like I said, I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled with me about old Dexter Green, but he wasn’t going to desert me any more than I was him.

I separated myself from Bob and started talking with the ducks. They were proud to count themselves among his flock and paid thousands of dollars a year for the privilege. They looked up to Bob and not just because he was taller. They looked up to him because he had convinced them they were below him and the only way to climb out of the hole of sin was to pray and tithe.

And not necessarily in that order.

A friend shared with me a simple way to tell if someone was good or bad. Good people raise others up. Bad people raise themselves up by pushing others down.

The flock? They were good ducks.

Bob? He was no swan.

But how to expose Bob for what he was? After all, the ducks weren’t going to listen to a stranger telling them their prophet on earth was a grifter. Hell, they’ve probably been told that. More than once. And by people they loved.

I pondered the dilemma as Dorothy took us backstage to a soft rising of oohing and aahing.

I did a root cause analysis, which is a fancy way of saying I thought down to the heart of the matter. Each and every one of the ducks was a good person—someone who lifted others up. Why would a duck ingratiate themselves to someone who took and never gave?

Someone with the letters PHD after their name could probably come up with a reason, but I couldn’t.

By the time Dorothy had us back to the meeting room, I was friendly enough with Bob and the ducks to get an invite to join them at the Opryland Hotel before the show. The hotel wrapped around a large area with restaurants, gardens, and a stream. It was topped with a steel and glass structure that must have been a pain in the ass to build.

Reverend Bob led the group to one of the restaurants. Like the self-possessed man he was, he dismissed without seeing people beneath him. He damn near snarled when he gave his name at the podium only to find out the reservation was under Mindy. Bob sat at the head of the table, his gopher woman, Mindy as it turned out, on his right and me on his left. He ordered appetizers for the table and the surf-and-turf for himself. The others ordered less lofty meals. For myself, I chose steak and potatoes.

“You say that you know you’re heaven-bound?” I asked him. I suspected it wouldn’t take much to get him talking and it didn’t.

“I do. Hippy, when you give yourself into God’s hands, there is nothing on this earth that can bring you down.” He went on to elaborate and made it clear as crystal that he was talking about himself. The rest of us, those who hadn’t been hand chosen, well the path was a longer and more expensive.

“It’s like a get-out-of-jail free card,” I said, making the analogy as ugly as I could. “Once you’re in, what you do here doesn’t matter. I like that idea, Reverend Bob. And I want in.”

His eyes swept from my head down. I guess I haven’t told you what I look like. Well, they don’t call me Hippy for nothing. My hair went white some time ago and is long, down to my shoulders. It stays in place thanks to a bandana. My moustache and goatee are long to match and don’t need a bandana to stay where they’re supposed to. I didn’t take many clothes when I left Indiana. Today, I wore a T-shirt from Stone’s Harley Davidson.”

Bob didn’t let what was going on in his head shine through. He’d be a mean one to go up against in a poker game.

“I inherited Mom and Dad’s house and the acreage,” I said. “I’ve been putting money aside since I started working.” I didn’t put a number out there. Anything he imagined was going to be better than what I could make up to tempt him.

“We’ll start addressing those sins with weekly sessions and get you on the path of truth and justice,” he said, leaping for the bait. “You’ll be expected to pray, to study the bible, to tithe. It’s not about the money, of course. It’s about what it represents.”

I nodded to cover that I’d just thrown up in my mouth a little.

“I’m in,” I said, pushing my empty plate away. “When do we start?”

Reverend Bob finished his wine, a fancy Italian one called Amarone. His plate was just as empty and he dropped his cloth napkin atop it. “Come to my RV and we’ll talk.”

I stood and pulled money from my wallet, more than enough to cover my share.

Bob did not.

The ducks started murmuring in a way that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. All eyes were on me, and they were wide. The whispers between neighbors seemed to say this invitation was a rare occurrence.

One I wondered if people walked away from.

Wanting to put some distance between me and Bob, I made an excuse to use the restroom and call the wife before meeting him at the RV.

He hesitated, then bowed his head. “I’ll have everything ready when you arrive.”

Oh, shit. Have you seen a horror movie? Like any movie? Ever?

Maybe I really should call Teresa. At least she’d have a chance of finding my body.

I went into the maintenance room. It wasn’t Bass Pro, but it would suit. I borrowed a duffle bag, removing the contents and putting them aside. Then I filled it with everything I could possible need…well, there was one more thing. And I bought that at the restaurant.

I knocked on the RV’s door maybe fifteen minutes later. Bob opened it. He’d lost the suit jacket and tie, and unbuttoned the top button. “Hippy, I was beginning to think the devil had had he way with you.”

“Not today, Bob.” I stepped up into the RV and I was right. Luxury wasn’t pretty enough word to describe the interior. Hand-crafted cabinets, multiple large screen televisions, quartz countertops. Steps to an upper level. “This is some spread you have here. You all travel in this together?”

Bob shook his head. “This is my oasis. My place to get away, collect my thoughts, refocus my energy. Please, sit.”

“I brought you something.” I set a bottle of the restaurant’s highest shelf Scotch on the table. “To show my appreciation for the interest you’ve taken in me. Where do you keep your glasses?”

Bob and I began to talk. I drank enough for a lifetime back in my twenties and kept with simpler things now. But I knew the power of the bottle and Bob? Well, he should of known it, too.

We started down the path he wanted, how my soul was black and blighted and he was the only way to the light. I nodded and followed where he wanted to go. Until…his façade started slipping, signs the alcohol was doing it’s job.

See, a little while back I learned some latin. In vino veritas. It means there is truth in wine. Or, what we all know, drunk people can’t lie.

I dug in the duffle and brought a little black puck. Not the kind you use in a hockey game. The kind you use to share a conversation to a Bluetooth speaker sitting outside the RV.

“What is this, Hippy?” Bob asked, his clumsy hands picking at disc.

“It’s a disseminator of truth. Whatever you say is transmitted for everyone to hear.”

He managed to pick it up and brought it close to his mouth. “I am . . . awesome.” He grinned at me.

I nodded. Seeing as he was just the right level of drunk, I pulled the Scotch away. “You are the hand selected instrument of God on earth?”

“I am,” he said with absolute certainty.

“Why do you think he picked you?”

He brought the mic to his lips. “Because . . . I am awesome.”

My mouth twitched. Couldn’t help it. “Help me understand your calling.”

Bob dropped the puck on the table, then caught it and set it right. “My calling is to collect together the lost souls of Missouri and shepherd them to heaven. It’s not easy. There’s too many people these days who only want God in their life when things are hard. God’s not like that, you know.”

“I do know. Bob, how much money do people give you for shepherding them?”

Bob’s answer on how full his offering plate was had me wishing for a drink. When I asked what he did with it all, I got an education in operating costs. The mortgage and utilities. The few employees who were paid below far market. The volunteers who were earning “God credit” through good deeds.

The numbers weren’t adding up. “Where does all the money go, Bob? Do you use it to help people struggling?”

He leaned into me. “Everyone is struggling, Hippy. Everyone. It’s part of the path. People need to struggle just like Jesus did. It’s the way to get through the eye of the needle.”

I leaned in, mirroring him. “Are you struggling, Bob?”

He snorted. “I’m his disciple.”

I understood the unspoken implication. Struggling was for everyone else. And with that, I’d had it. “I’m going to take this RV apart, Bob. I’m going to expose you for what you are.”

“Oh, you’re one of those.” Bob threw his head back and laughed. “And what exactly am I, Hippy?”

“You’re a man, Bob. Just like the rest of us.”

Well, Bob went real still at that. “You can’t do that.”

“Yeah, I can.” I leaned down and pulled a Stihl chain saw out of the duffle bag.

“Hippy, wait, can’t we talk about this?” Panic was sobering him up real fast.

“Go ahead and talk,” I said, pulling on the gloves and eye protection. “I’m not stopping you.”

And talk he did. He explained his twisted logic of the money and gifts being due to him. How others out there were worse than him. How destroying the RV would accomplish nothing.

For all his talking, he still didn’t get it.

It wasn’t about him.

It was about Martin and Harry and Mindy and everyone else in the battered passenger van. Good people who lived their lives lifting others up and didn’t see that they weren’t getting the same.

If he had said even a single, positive word about the ducks, maybe I’da changed my mind. But this swan in buzzard’s clothing was blind to his own ways.

I set the saw on the floor, put on ear protection, and prepared to pull the starter. If it didn’t start, I’d look the fool and maybe take it as a sign to stop.

It started on the first pull.

The motor roared in the small space. Bob’s eyes widened and he stumbled back. His mouth moved but I couldn’t hear what he said and didn’t care to lip read. I walked toward Bob. He crab walked back toward the cockpit. I took a right at the stairs to the exterior door. The blade went through the fiberglass like butter, making a Hippy-sized opening in the door.

The ducks were on the other side. When I went back to the restaurant for the Scotch, I tagged Martin and invited him to the show. Seven people stood on the other side of the door. Seven different reactions.

Disappointment. Shame. Embarrassment. Anger. Disbelief. Denial. Sadness.

One of the women pointed behind me. I turned as Bob came out of the RV. The chainsaw discouraged whatever he had planned. I went around to the back of the RV, the ducks followed.

The composite exterior was no match for the chain’s RPMs.

If I had thought this through, I’d done it from the inside out. As it was, the window I opened was only about three feet high over the RV’s floor. It was enough to look through to the opulent— hey, there’s a word for more than luxury —to the opulent interior.

Then I went to the side of the RV and did a little precision cutting.

Jesus Saves, it said.

And nothing more.

I called Teresa from my room at the Hermitage the next morning. “I went to the Grand Ole Opry yesterday. If they don’t hang me, we should come back and do the tour and the show. You would like it.”

“They don’t hang people anymore, Hippy. Even stubborn old goats like you.” Her voice trailed off like she was only paying half attention to me.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking up the Opry to see…Hippy! What did you do now?”

Never offer up the truth to a smart woman. “What does it say I did?”

“It says that someone exposed a preacher for misappropriation of funds to the church elders, who demanded the Nashville police arrest the man. The FBI has been called in.” She gasped. “Did you really take a chain saw to an RV?”

“Does it say I did?”

“Of course not, but I know it was you.” She paused and I could picture her shaking her head. “What am I going to do with you?”

End Stuff

No Bobs were harmed in the making of this episode. Same goes for ducks, swans, and buzzards.

The Hermitage Hotel just may be TG Wolff’s favorite place to stare at a ceiling. They also set the bar for awesome suite bathrooms. The Grand Ole Opry is one of the coolest places ever, even if you aren’t a country music lover, and The Opryland Resort is worth more than a few hours of your time.

We tackled a nasty bad guy in this episode and some of you might have gotten offended. If you did, first you might want to remember this is fiction and then ask why it bothered you. If you didn’t, then you’re doing just fine.

We hope you enjoyed the ides of January, Josh. Godspeed.

Hippy Saves The World Episode 2: Matter

I left town with so many possibilities of where to go, it would have been easier to stay. But there was no staying, not after killing Dexter Green. I would say “poor old” Dexter Green, but he was neither poor nor old. If you remember me saying, Dex was an asshole and, so as much as I wish I wasn’t the one who took him out of this world, well the world is better for it.

I parked my work truck at my apartment, leaving it for Tim or one of the guys to pick up. The little I needed fit into the saddlebags on my 2016 Ultra Classic Limited Low. My bike wanted to head south, and since it was as good as any other direction, I crossed the Ohio River, leaving Indiana for Kentucky.

Usually, no matter what was wrong, a few miles on an open road and I was me again. But killing a man, even one was ornery as Dex, that wasn’t something bright sun and a warm wind could fix.

I rode on, waiting for some direction, some inspiration, or some…something.

The fork in the road made me choose: stay on 69 toward Fulton or get onto Western Kentucky Parkway toward Hopkinsville. I opted for 69 and soon, I was headed for Memphis. When I took a break at a rest stop, I knew where I was going. Because a place like that doesn’t like unexpected guests, I made a phone call. After a solid five hours, I parked in the garage of the Peabody Hotel.

Now, if this were a movie, a character in the situation I’m in would find the cheapest, dirtiest motel in the nastiest part of town to hide from the law.

Well, fuck that.

If the law was gonna to come after me for ridding the world of cancerous growth like Dexter Green, they were going to come to the best there was. And in Memphis, nothing out classed the Peabody. I sat in the Grand Lobby, enjoying a sweet tea and remembering the trips Teresa and I had made here over the years. We both got a kick out of watching the ducks march in or out of the lobby.

It didn’t take much to make people happy.

Just a few ducks, waddling to and from a fountain.

The people entertained me as much as the ducks. It was something to see tour busses pull up and people of all shapes and sizes flock toward the waterfowl. They jockeyed for position. They oohed and ahed. They giggled and pointed. And, of course, they had phones out snapping pictures.

My favorites are the ones who stare at their screen without ever looking at the real-life thing in front of them.

The ducks filed out and, at a slower pace, the audience did the same. I was among them, the city of Memphis stretching out in all directions in front of me. A few short blocks away was Beale Street and beyond it the place Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, part of the National Civil Rights Museum. If you haven’t been, go. It’s as much a part of our history as Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, and the Alamo.

Instead of heading south, though, I went north to one of the most distinctive buildings in Memphis, the Pyramid. The glass tower was home to a scenic overlook, a top end restaurant, an excellent hotel, and Bass Pro Shop.

On the early side of dinner, I sat alone at a table with a view. I dropped a text to Tim to make sure he had my truck. He did and confirmed what I knew: Dex was dead and the police had questions for me.

What was there to say? I backed a truck over the guy.

Did I do it on purpose? Hell, no. But I did it.

I’ll go back eventually. Just not yet.

My waitress was a sweet woman named Shirlee. It wasn’t a name you heard much these days and I said so.

“I’m named after my mother’s sister,” she said. “She died when my mother was pregnant with me. A drunk driver drifted left of center.”

“It doesn’t take much,” I said, thinking of Dex.

“No,” she said. “And it takes even less at sixty miles an hour.”

We chit chatted a bit but as the restaurant filled, her stops by my table were more and more professional. She didn’t rush me. In fact, I would say she appreciated the calm I brought. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call me a ballast to the three men sitting two tables over. One had his back to me; the other two I could see. They were loud in a place where a steak can put you back a c-note. Their choice of language wasn’t fit for public consumption. They were half-drunk and wholly disreputable.

I recognized their kind from over forty-years on a construction site. They are too young to be good at much of anything, too stupid to want to learn, and too arrogant to care.

Now let’s be clear. I am not, in anyway, saying this is normal for young people today.

No, I am not.

Assholes like these three, like Dex, have been around forever. As much as I said they were too young, too stupid, and too arrogant, it’s truly a matter of respect. When you respect others as people, you don’t make it your life’s work to tear them down.

You certainly don’t do it for fun, the way these three were with Shirlee.

The one on the end facing me reached out and grabbed her breast. “Squishes like dough,” the asshole we’ll call Lefty said to his buddy when she pulled away. “If that’s Victoria’s secret, she should lock the door and throw the key into the Mississippi.”

My fist tightened on my steak knife as Shirlee ran away.

The three pounded fists and beer bottles on the table. “Shirlee. Shirlee. Shirlee.”

“Don’t be that way,” Lefty shouted. He pulled out his wallet, took out bills and slapped them on the table. “Here’s a tip; buy a bra.”

The three devolved into laughter as a man in a good suit approach. The manager was somewhere in the neighborhood of forty, close to six-foot, and struggling to control his temper. He crossed the room to the assholes’ table, all attention was on him.

Two tables away, I couldn’t hear him. He wasn’t shouting, which showed an immense amount of personal restraint. The one with his back to me was answering.

Everyone heard him. “Listening? Oh, I’m listening. Want me to repeat back what you said? Blah, blah blah, blah fuckin’ blah.” The one we’ll call Van Gogh talked over, through, and around the manager.

A woman at the table across the aisle couldn’t take it anymore. “You are exactly the kind of people who shouldn’t be let into a place like this. Pay your bill and get out.” The Karen wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t help diffuse the situation.

“Eating for two?” Van Gogh asked. “Or is it five? You’re lucky they don’t charge by weight.”

The manager held up his hand to the woman, silencing her outrage. “You have two choices,” he told the table, loudly and distinctly. “Leave or police. Now.”

The trio stood quickly, their chairs crashing to the ground. The last of the men swept his arm across the table, sending the glass and porcelain to the ground. The carpet did little to cushion the blow. What gravity didn’t break, the third man, one we’ll call Stumpy, did. He laughed as his thick soled boots crushed the beer bottles. Lefty snatched Karen’s plate and tossed it onto the mess. Stumpy jumped, landing on it with both feet. He hurriedly stepped back as the plate slid out from under him, laughing as he regained his balance.

“Do it again,” Lefty said, sweeping just about everything from Karen’s table.

Stumpy did it again. Lefty laughed like a jackal.

Things were coming to a head with the manager and Van Gogh saw it. “Come on, let’s go. The food sucks here anyway.”

The three walked out without a care in the world, joking and talking about where they were going next. Behind them was a restaurant full of shock and unhappiness.

Shirlee came to my table, doing her best to hide how shook up she was. “I’m sorry about all that, Hippy. I hope it didn’t take too much away from your dinner.” Her hands trembled as she smoothed her shirt. Behind her, two young men cleaned up the mess.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said to ease her. “Take a few moments for yourself.”

She shook her head as she laughed nervously. “Better to keep busy. Would you like coffee? Dessert?”

It wasn’t right.

“Just the check, please. I have some business I need to see to tonight.”

“On a Friday? Well, make sure you don’t work too hard or too long.” She set the bill on the table.

I set two-hundred-dollar bills down and stood up. “I don’t plan on doing either. Keep the change. And don’t think twice about those boys. They aren’t worth it.”

I left Shirlee just as one of bussers set the tray of broken plates and glass on the table. “Let me help you with that,” I said, taking the bus tray with me as I left.

Now, it wasn’t a mystery where Lefty, Van Gogh, and Stumpy were going. I was maybe seven minutes behind them, taking the glass elevator down to Bass Pro. It’s not surprising that they were causing trouble on the main floor. Stumpy had his socks and shoes off and trudged through the lazy river. A little kid stood on the edge watching him, all wide-eyed like kids get. Stumpy’s arms went wide. He roared like a bear and kicked water at boy, making him run to his mom.

Van Gogh and Lefty were huddled over something. I couldn’t see what they were up to, but it wasn’t good as they kept looking over their shoulders.

I wasn’t a stranger to the store. Not only am I a regular customer back home, but I had done some window shopping prior to heading up to dinner. I set the bus tray next to one of the columns that held up the staircase. Then I went straight to a display of knives and selected Ka-Bar. The big ‘ol Crocodile Dundee knife would make a point about respect that a man couldn’t ignore. I picked up duct tape and some bungee cords. I didn’t have time to work out the math.

Either it would be right, or it wouldn’t.

Stumpy was still kicking up a storm in the shallow pool, his mouth running ahead of his brain whenever men, women, and children crossed his path. I listened to every word while I taped the knife to the post, the sharp blade pointed to heaven.

“Excuse me, ladies,” I said, stopping two women in the same age bracket as Stumpy. “Could you do me a favor and go to that landing up there and attach these bungees around the post.”

Their gaze went from my old face, to the knife, to the bus pan of broken dishes. “Whatcha gonna do?” the taller one asked.

I grinned, couldn’t help it. “I’m gonna give Stumpy there a lesson in respect. Seems likely he missed school that day.”

The taller took the cords. “Give him a lesson for us.” Those brave girls ran up the stairs and appeared at the railing. They let one hook drop down and wrapped the other around the railing post. When they finished, four were hanging down plus two more in my hands.

“Call him,” I said, hoping they could hear me. “Call him over.”

The shorter one backed away, shaking her head, clearly a woman with good sense. The taller one didn’t hesitate. “Hey handsome, watcha doin’ with those ducks?”

Stumpy’s attention snapped upward. The girl was worth looking twice at. “I knew you liked me. Why don’t you come down and I’ll show you.” He kept his eye on her, not on where he was walking.

The girl shook her head. “I’m wearin’ white. I wanna stay dry.”

Ol’ Stumpy licked his lips as he reached the spot near to under her. “I’ll bet you look really good wet.”

“I look good when I’m wearing nothing at all.” She was keeping his attention.

Stumpy had no idea I was behind him. When you’re as old as me, speed isn’t the kind of option it once was. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get the job done.

“I’ll bet you do. Why—hey. What the fuck?” Stubby screamed. Not unexpected since his arms were tied behind him and he was moving, but not toward a pretty girl.

I slapped a long piece of tape over his mouth and then three more because I’d heard his mouth. I reached up to the dangling hooks and had him rigged up before he understood what was going on. The bungies and ties kept him against the column but gave him room to move up and down. He started to kick out but felt the kiss of the Ka-Bar. I know because he froze like a rabbit.

I stood in front of him, holding the tip of another Ka-Bar between my index finger and thumb. “Class is in session.”

His eyes locked on the gleam of the blade.

“The twin brother to his knife is taped to the column under you. I did a pretty good job guessing how tall you are. That’s what experience gives you, a good eye.” I turned to the side and picked up the bus tray. “You recognize this?”

I was patient, waiting for him to answer. When you’re teaching a lesson, patience was a must.

He shook his head.

“This is all glasses and dishes and silverware you knocked off the tables at the restaurant.” I pulled out the neck of a beer bottle, it’s jagged edge advertising pain. “You remember now?”

Reluctantly, he nodded.

“Now, we are getting somewhere. Okay, in physics, there is this thing called entropy which says that things tend toward chaos. What does that mean?”

He looked at me like I was a little crazy, which was fine, ‘cause I was feeling a little crazy. When I waited, he shook his head again.

“What it means,” I said, “is that the shit you broke, isn’t going to fix itself. In fact, it can’t be fixed. You took perfectly good glasses and plates and reduced them to chaos.” I shook the tray, the contents scraping across the bottom and into each other. “There’s no going back to what they were. But, that doesn’t mean they’re useless.” I dropped the tray at his feet. “Step in.”

He shook his head, quickly this time.

I picked the knife back-up, changing my grip. “Step in. Don’t make me tell you a third time.”

He tried screaming, whipping his head one way and then the other. A few people were gathering around. There was the mother whose child was still crying on her shoulder. The old man with the Vietnam Veteran hat. The two young women who baited my trap.

His victims.

There was no help coming.

He lifted one foot, yelping and standing taller when his weight sank onto the long blade.

“Now you get the idea,” I said, shoving the bus tray firmly under him. “Your bare feet are going to stand on the glasses and dishes. You pick them up and Ka-Bar is going to do us all a favor and make sure you don’t reproduce.”

The leg he had up, sunk down. I poked the back of his other knee. He brought his leg up quickly up, felt the knife, and then down twice as fast. He jammed his foot onto the detritus he created. His scream was muffled, tears ran down his cheeks as the jagged edges ripped skin apart.

“That’s good,” I said. “Real good. Any questions?”

He had plenty to say but the tape did it’s job. I would guess it was along the lines of “I’m sorry,” “it wasn’t me”, and “let me go.”

An explosion rocked the corner of the store. It wasn’t much louder than an M-80, but in the close confines, it felt a hundred times louder.

“We got this one,” the veteran said.

“Thank you for your service,” I said. “Then and now.”

I marched across the store, acquiring a few things along the way. Some were ordinary, like zip ties, some were not.

Van Gogh and Lefty were packing a small tin with Tannerite. The two-part mix was a household name in legal explosives. When mixed and put in a container, it became live. When struck by a center fire cartridge, it detonates.

The two of them knew enough to be dangerous, but not efficient, which was why the first explosion wasn’t much more than a firecracker. But they were working to correct their mistake.

I turned to see what was handy to contain these two before they succeeded in killing me before the cops had a chance to. Behind me was a group of three men armed with ropes and such.

I never had a posse before.

This was cool.

“Take cover,” one said, and we all did a full second before their second explosion. This one of a M-100 grade.

Still, they were too close, and it knocked them on their asses. They were so busy congratulating themselves they didn’t notice us. That is, not until they were bound, taped, and being carried back to Stumpy.

When they were fully trussed up, I went to Lefty. “When did you start hurting women?” I didn’t ask him if he hurt women. Asking him would have only given him the opportunity to lie. It was obvious from the way he handled Shirlee that he did. “Who was the first one you hit? Your mother? Your girlfriend?”

Lefty lifted his chin, adrenaline convincing him he was brave. “What the fuck is it to you? I don’t do anything they don’t deserve.”

I put the tape back in place and smiled. “Me, too.”

Armed with a newly acquired Barnett XP400 crossbow with a pack of broadheads for big game, I aimed at his right shoulder. The first broadhead went under the clavicle and didn’t come out. The second got the first out and took a chunk of the shoulder with it. Since I’m a measure twice and cut once kind of guy, I put a third into the joint. I hoped I shattered it, but that would be for a doc to determine. I had reason to be optimistic. Lefty’s right arm was a dead weight hanging at his side.

I slapped his cheek, helping him stay conscious. “You with us? That’s right, school’s still in session.”

Stumpy whimpered, getting my attention. He made his choice. His knees were locked straight, sacrificing his feet for his nuts.

I looked into the bus tray. “Not much blood. I imagined more. Don’t worry, I can fix that.”

“No,” he said, through the tape. I ripped one side off. His first intelligible words were, “I’m sorry.” He was covered in sweat, tears, snot. If it came out of your head, he was leaking it.

“I’m sure you are. And you’ll be more sorry when your pinkie toes are in your pockets instead of your shoes.”

“Are you going to kill him,” a young voice asked from behind.

I turned to the child who wasn’t a teen yet. “No,” I said. “Dead people can’t learn lessons. These boys didn’t bother to learn when they were your age, so they have to learn now. Stumpy over here took other people’s property and stomped on it till it was the mess you see there. He didn’t respect the work other people do but I expect he does now.”

Stubby nodded vigorously. “I do, I do, I swear.”

We looked to the meat at the other end. “Lefty there never learned that you don’t raise your hand to people, especially those weaker. Now, he doesn’t have to worry about it. He won’t be raising that hand again.”

“What about him?” The boy pointed at Van Gogh. “What did he do?”

“It’s more like what he didn’t do, and that was listen.” I rose and went to the man, the NF Five-Seven hanging from my hand. It’s a nice handgun for when you want to fire rifle-sized rounds out of a handgun.

He sneered at me, nearly foaming at the mouth. “I don’t answer to you. I don’t care what any of you say.”

“That is exactly why we are here, Van Gogh.”

He was sweating, the pea he called a brain working so hard it was turning to soup. “Why are you calling me that? That ain’t my name. You gonna call me, you call me by name.”

“Like you did to the manager? You don’t listen. If you’re not going to listen, there’s no point to having ears.” The big gun took his left ear off as neatly as a scalpel. Or close enough. Fired that close, he wouldn’t be hearing anything for a while. Or longer.

Van Gogh crumbled as much as he could, howling inarticulately as blood ran down him.

I stepped back, the three students in front of me, my posse behind. “Gentleman, since the moment you sat in the restaurant, you failed to respect those around you. You treated hard working people like trash, you threatened the safety of people shopping in this fine store. You lived life like you were the only ones in the world. You are not.” I lifted my arms, the NF Five-Nine still in my hand. “This is your lesson on respect.”

Stumpy gritted his teeth. “Respect?”

I nodded. “It’s not a big word. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You just found out what it means to me.”

“Make them sing it,” a woman said from over my shoulder. Her friend, standing next to her, nodded. “The way Aretha did.”

And just when you thought you knew where this story was going…it took a turn for Motown.

“Now for myself, I’m content with what we’ve done here. But these ladies, they are not. Because I respect their point of view, you’re gonna sing for us.” I smiled and you would have, too.

Saxophones rang out from a mobile device made for taking pictures. But music from the soul sounded good on any speaker. Otis Redding’s words from Aretha Franklin’s lips rang out across Bass Pro at the Pyramid. And three very sorry voices joined in.

During the refrain, with the help of an employee who will not be named, I made my exit. I could hear the sirens but couldn’t see the lights as I walked to The Peabody. Back in my room, I called Teresa.

“Where are you? Are you alright? What are doing?” The questions kept coming until she ran out of breath.

“I’m in Memphis, but not for much longer. I’m fine. Did a little clean up tonight. Do me a favor, look up Bass Pro here on the internet.”

Teresa put me on speaker, telling me about our kids and grandkids and everything else she could think of. “It says the police came on a strange mob scene at Bass Pro where three men were being forced to sing Aretha Franklin hits while they bled from wounds. What did you do?”

“Nothing much.” I told her. “I taught a class on the matter of respect.”

“Respect,” she said with a question in her voice. “Hippy, come home.”

“Not yet. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She sniffled, her voice breaking. I’d made her cry. “Where will you go next?” “Isn’t that the question. I’ll call you when I know.”


No ducks – real or decoy – were harmed in the making of this episode.

If you haven’t seen the ducks walk, check out the Peabody Hotel. Everything about the Pyramid is cool. Really, everything about Memphis is worth seeing for yourself.

Thanks to Josh for picking the weapons and Hippy for making sure I used them right.

Josh, happy 2023. Godspeed.

Hippy Saves the World Episode 1: No

The dawn followed me to work. Oranges and reds pushed out from the horizon, chasing the night to the west. With the sun brought the start to the first Friday in June. Fridays were usually my favorite day. It being the last day of the work week, people were less inclined to be stupid on the job as other days. No one wanted to ruin their own weekend with trips to the emergency room or having to show up on Saturday to fix what got fucked up the day before. Some days, I thought being a construction superintendent was a fancy way of saying I babysat grown adults. On this job, it felt a lot like that.

Which wasn’t fair.

Of fifteen laborers and carpenters on my crew, fourteen were true craftsmen. Well, craftspeople, because a few of the boots were filled by female feet, but the point is they had the skills, work ethic, and personal commitment to quality that made me proud each and every day.

But it was the fifteenth person I couldn’t get out of my mind as I turned onto the road leading to the construction site. Dexter Green. The carpenter foreman had skills, there was no denying it. There didn’t seem to be a structure he couldn’t build, a design he couldn’t improve. There was just one problem.

Dexter Green was an asshole.

Dex rode people hard, just because he could. He saw it as a right earned with twenty years of sweat equity. He seemed to get off on frustrating people. The more miserable his team was, the happier he was.

The project was on the verge on losing good team members because no one with any sense wanted to work with an asshole and, with the way the labor market was, they didn’t have to. Even the salaried staff avoided the man. The project engineer, a young kid who still only needed to shave once a week, would walk the long way around the construction site to avoid being seen by Dex, who would inevitably make a comment.

It wouldn’t be the witty kind that built a group of individuals into a team.

It would be the derisive kind that bifurcated, separated, and all together tore teams apart.

Yesterday, I was checking on the latest concrete pour when I heard Green dismantling the ego of a carpenter. Dexter’s target was out of his apprenticeship, but just barely. He had a ready smile, good instincts, and a strong work ethic. People welcomed him on their team.

That is, all people except Dexter.

I stepped in front of the kid and gave Dexter the tongue lashing I should have given him a month ago. I hadn’t thought about Dex being twenty-some years younger than my sixty-four. I hadn’t thought about what could have happened if the asshole decided to act like an asshole and take it to blows.

Nope. I called the man out because it was the right thing to do.

Lots of people talk about being a leader these days, but few are willing to stand up when an man like Dexter decided the only way he could stand taller was by cutting other people off at the knees. Or the balls if he was really feeling mean.

I didn’t regret what I’d done yesterday. Not one word. But I wasn’t looking forward to finishing the discussion this morning. Hell, there were a lot more things I’d rather do than go another round with Dexter.

It took too much energy.

Fridays were supposed to be easy.

That was a rule. If it wasn’t written down somewhere, well, it is now. Only good things happen on Friday.

I pulled into the construction drive and up to the gate. It was open. Most days, I was the first on site. I liked the quiet that came before the controlled chaos. I wasn’t the only one and I hoped whoever beat me in had the civility to put a pot of coffee on.

That would be a good start to a Friday.

Maybe even another rule.

First in, start the damn coffee. Whether you drink it or not.

A pick-up truck was rolling toward me, someone was ending their day while I hadn’t gotten started. The driver’s window was down, a man’s arm hung out, enjoying the morning air. It raised in a friendly wave as we started to pass. I did the same.

Civility. That’s what I’ve been talking about. It doesn’t take much. A wave. A how-ya-doing. That’s all it takes to make any day a good day.

The gravel of the construction laydown area had been tamped down by months of pickups trucks and heavy equipment running over it. The stone was quiet under my tires as I wound my way back to the trailers. A triple-wide in the company colors was the home office for the twenty-four month project. The double-wide next door was for the engineers and inspectors who worked the job. Like most places, people fell into a habit of parking in the same spot. On this site, there weren’t parking spaces, let alone assignments, but everyone had their favorites, and I was no exception. My spot was on the edge of the laydown area, where I backed in under the long reach of the trees. It helped keep my truck cool and made for a nice place to take a break.

There were two cars backed in already. The project manager, Tim, another early birder, was in his spot. I grinned, knowing coffee would be brewing.

The other car belonged to Dexter Green.

Well, best to get the bad out of the way early.

I swung the truck around, preparing to back in. In my head, I could hear Green’s rants.

“I have every right to decide how to manage my crew…discipline is what gets results…none of your business…undermined my authority…I quit.”

Well, that made me smile as I put the truck in reverse.

Yeah, I’d listen to the blimp let out all that hot air if it ended with resignation.

There wouldn’t be no unemployment check rewarding the man for treating people poorly.

There would be a little note added to his employment record: Do Not Rehire.

Why, that would be the epitome of Rule #1, because with Dexter Green gone, everyone was going to have a good Friday, even if we were a man down.

The pickup rocked as I drove over a tree branch. I hadn’t seen it when he swung the truck around, but it wasn’t the first time. It’s a consequence of parking on the edge of a grove. Newton had his apple. I have branches.

I’d rather have them than not, so it’s all good.

I got out and went around to get my lunch cooler and gear from the passenger side. The branch I’d run over stuck out by a foot, that is by two feet, and those feet were wearing boots.

“What the hell?” My knees aren’t as flexible as they used to be. I pulled my phone out and called Tim while I slid down the truck.

“Hey, Hippy, what’s going on.”

“Need you outside,” I said. “Looks like I ran over someone.”

“You what?!? Hold on, I’m on my way.” Tim must have run because I heard him through the phone and across the yard at the same time.

On the ground now, I peered under my truck. Well, you can probably guess who it was.

Dexter Green.

So much for Rule #1.

“Dex? You all right under there?” The man was rolling his head side to side. He wasn’t dead, at least that was something.

“Who is it?” Tim asked.

“Dexter,” I said, kneeling back. “I have no idea how this happened.”

Tim had his phone on speaker and was dialing. “How are we going to get him out? I guess we can—”

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

While Tim gave the woman the details, I bent back down to the ground. “We have help coming, Dex.”

He was on his stomach, the undercarriage of the truck cleared the back of his head by a few inches. He didn’t seem to notice as he pulled himself to his elbows. He hit his head and dropped back down.

“Just stay put, Dex. Seriously, there’s a truck over you.”

He didn’t listen. The stubborn man was trying to army crawl out from under the truck. I was afraid to grab onto his legs, seeing how I’d just run over them. An inch at a time, he pulled them under the truck.

“What’s going on,” Tim asked.

“He’s trying to crawl his way out,” I told him.

“Well, tell him to stop. We got help on the way.”

“I did tell him to stop, but he’s not listening.” I used the quarterpanel to help climb to my feet. Then Tim and I went to the other side. Dexter was breaking the line of the truck.

“Dexter, stop moving,” Tim told him. “Help is only minutes away.”

Dexter still didn’t listen. He kept coming forward, his elbows and forearms gripping the stone covered ground. His eyes looked straight ahead. Blood was coming to the surface in the cuts on the left side of his face. Small rocks were stuck in the same.

Tim and I kept telling him to stay still but we were wasting breath.

At this point, I’m not sure he was hearing us.

Dexter pulled his hips clear, his thighs, then his knees. He rolled to his back. Tim and I were on our knees already. Tim put his hand on his chest, keeping him from sitting up.

“You listen this time, Dex. Stay still,” Tim told him.


“I’m right here Dex.” I caught the hand he waved around. His eyes had a wild look about them and his breathing was too hard, too fast.

A siren sounded in the distance.

“Just a few more minutes. Don’t move,” Tim ordered.

“Hippy…” Dex rolled his head toward Tim. “Couldn’t stop him…killed me. He…killed me.”

I looked at Tim. Tim looked at me.

Neither of us said anything because what was there to say? My truck was sitting on top of the man.

Tim shook his head. “You aren’t dead, Dex. You hear that? The ambulance will be here in a minute. Sixty seconds.”

Dexter gasped, his entire body going board stiff.

“He’s seizing,” I said, stripping off my hi-vis vest and rolling it into a pillow. I shoved it under his head, trying to give some cushion to the rock.

The sirens were loud enough to be next door. Tim was on his feet, hustling off toward entrance. Dexter’s arms were off the ground, locked straight, his hands balled into fists. His legs were doing the same, from his hips to the middle of his shins. His feet and ankles were still on the ground, thanks to the unnatural break.

The paramedics ran in. I stood up and stepped back, giving them room to work.

They worked and they worked, but Dexter didn’t get any better.

I called Teresa, my wife. She answered on the second ring. “This is unusual,” she said. “Is it good news or bad news.”

It was hard to talk with the lump in my throat, but she was my wife of over forty years. She deserved to hear the truth from me. “Teresa, I killed a man.”

She gasped. “That can’t be right. What happened?”

I told her. It felt like days ago, not minutes.

“Where did he come from?” she asked. “If he was standing there, you would have seen him. There has to be more to it.”

I wished there was. I really did. “There isn’t it. Do you remember what I said I would do, if I ever killed a man?”

“That was all talk,” she said quickly. “You aren’t thinking straight. How could you right now. You need to just sit down and let things work through.”

She made it sound so easy.

And maybe it was. But I wasn’t ready for it.

“I killed a man. There’s no way out. I might not have intended to, but I did it. They’re going to put me away for a long time. A man can only get one life sentence, so before I go, I’m going to do a little cleaning up.”

“Hippy, no. Just, just stop and think.”

“I love you,” I said, meaning it. I felt it so much, my chest ached. “I’ll call you when I can.”

“Hippy, you stubborn—”


Merry Christmas, Josh. Godspeed.

If you aren’t Josh, leave a comment for the deployed Sergeant to wish him and all of C Company 1 a Merry Christmas. Even if it isn’t Christmas when you read this.

No trees were harmed in the telling of this episode. Only Dexter, and that’s okay, ’cause he’s an asshole.

Cover image: Copyright: anko

Hippy Saves the World: Intro

This blog story was created for the entertainment of one man: Sergeant Joshua Irvin, currently deployed somewhere in this great world of ours with the Ohio Army National Guard, C Company 1, 148th Infantry. This is a story he and I talked about before he deployed and one I plan to keep writing until he’s back home.

If you aren’t Josh and you’re entertained else is entertained by it, well that’s just great. Do me a favor of writing something in the comments to Josh.

If you aren’t Josh and you aren’t entertained by this story, that’s just fine, too. I’m sure we both wish you were somewhere else.

In case you were wondering, Hippy is a real person, a brave one to let me write fiction around him. Yes, this is fiction. Noir in fact. Noir stories contain elements of crime, cynicism, moral ambiguity and strangeness. And so it begins.