Back to the next Grey Man now that Rimworld is out for review…
Same caveats as always, and no guarantees on my lousy Spanish, so Miguel will probably be cussing me as usual.
Anyway, comments and corrections appreciated as always, and yes, this DOES put the cliffhanger to bed…
The old man pointed, “Turn here. Now park in that lot.” His cell rang and he dragged it out, “Lo?” After a pause he said, “We’re here. We’ll hang loose till you get here.” Another pause, “Fifteen is about right.” He hung up and smiled as he turned around, “Billy’s on deck, he’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”
Aaron shook his head, “Still not sure…”
Matt tugged at his collar, “Shut up. You’re not the one in a coat and tie.”
Felicia slapped the back of his head from the back seat of the Suburban, “You were not wearing blue jeans. Jesse and I don’t get a chance to wear pretty dresses often, and the least you could do was look presentable. And it’s not hot, so you have no excuse.”
Aaron tried defusing the situation, “Well, it is a pretty day. And comfortable by Texas standards.”
The old man saw Matt roll his eyes, and it was all he could do to keep from laughing, as Jesse just shook her head, hiding a smile from Matt. The old man had already gone round and round with Jesse that morning, and he was in his usual grey Dickies. Aaron was at least in uniform, if starched jeans, a brown chambray shirt with a badge, and gunbelt could be considered a uniform. As a matter of fact, the only uniformity, was they all had cowboy hats with them.
Jesse and Felicia had a quiet conversation, until they heard a horn honk, and saw Billy stepping out of an airport car next to them. The old man looked at his watch, “More or less on time. I saw Charlie and Cliff walk in a minute ago, so we’re about right.” He opened the door and got out and shook hands with Billy, as the rest of them piled out.
Billy did the air kiss with Jesse and Felicia, plainly ogling them, and when Jesse cocked an eyebrow, he said, “I may be old, but I ain’t dead kiddo. I can still look!”
Jesse laughed ruefully, “Uncle Billy! Really?”
He shook hands with Matt and Aaron, winking at them as he did so, “Let’s go have some fun!” He turned back and grabbed his ever present briefcase, bowed and grinned, “Lead on, Ladies!”
Felicia and Jesse led the way, as the old man said, “You sleep in that suit, Billy?”
Billy flipped his ponytail out of the way, sighing, “John, you’ve been yanking my chain for… damn over fifty years about my clothes. Am I ever going to get a break?”
The old man slapped him lightly on the back, “No, why should I? We good to go?”
“Yeah, called some folks Monday at the SEC, they called back this morning, wanting to know where I’d gotten the information. Played the lawyer-client card, and told ‘em to go find more themselves. Hard to believe he was that stupid. Triply so, insider trading, stock manipulation schemes, and embezzlement during and before he sold out. The next two years or so should be fun for him. And the whole property deal on the ranch is questionable too. The scuzzball lawyer he used up here should have been disbarred a long time ago. Matter of fact, that’s going to be an agenda item for the next bar association meeting.”
“Reap what you sow, eh?”
Billy’s grin turned rapacious, “Oh hell yes!”
Aaron held the door and they trooped into the club, with the old man leading the way. Jesus, the maître-d’ met them at the main door to the dining room, “Mr. Cronin, welcome back sir. We don’t see you very often anymore.”
“Jesus,” the old man nodded. “You remember my little granddaughter? Jesse?”
Jesus looked at Jesse and said softly, “Dios mío, this is little Jesse?” He bowed to her, as Jesse blushed prettily.
The old man laughed, “And this is her husband, Lieutenant Aaron Miller, Pecos County. And they have two little ones, but don’t ask to see pictures, we’ll be here all day and half the night.” Jesse swatted at him as she laughed, and he went on, “And Matt Carter, my ranch manager and his lovely lady Felicia. And the short one back there is my lawyer, Billy Moore.”
Jesus shook the men’s hands, and said something too soft for the old man to catch, but Felicia laughed and replied in fast Spanish, causing Jesus to grin. “You want to eat?”
“We’re supposed to meet Charlie Waters, Cliff Erwin, and Johnny Chapel. I saw Charlie and Cliff, but Johnny…”
“Will be late to his own funeral,” Billy chimed in.
Jesus smiled again and replied, “We have you at the main table. Please follow me.” He led them to the round table in the center of the dining area, and seated the ladies, then the men. Aaron and Matt were looking around in wonder, as Charlie Waters and Cliff Erwin walked in.
The old man got up, along with Billy, and a round of handshakes and back slaps ensued, followed by introductions all around. Charlie said, “You got a minute, John? We need to chat with you.”
The old man cocked his head, “Sure. Here?”
Cliff replied, “Let’s go into the boardroom.” The old man looked around, shrugged and followed them.
Billy said, “Come on guys, I’ll show you around.”
Felicia asked, “Should we go too?”
Jesse shook her head, “No, they’ll get all the boring stuff. I’ll show you the good stuff when we go to the bathroom.” Felicia snickered, “Okay. How does… Billy know about this place?”
“I think Papa nominated him for membership thirty some odd years ago. Billy represents a lot of the old oil guys up here. I remember seeing him here a few times when Papa brought me up here.”
A waitress came up and took their drink orders, then disappeared quietly. A couple of minutes later, she returned and set their teas in front of them, asking if they would like anything else. They demurred, waiting on the men to come back.
A few minutes later, a burly man with a red nose in a suit strode up to the table, “Who are you? Youse girls are at my table. You need to move.”
Jesse looked up at him, “Excuse me?”
Impatiently, he stood right over Jesse, “Youse need to move. This is my table. I’m meeting important people today.” He snapped his fingers loudly, “Jesus! Where is that damned maître-d’?” He grabbed a waitress by the arm, “Go find that damn maître-d’, these people need to be moved.” She scurried off as Jesse popped the latch on her purse, not sure what was going on.
Moments later, Johnny Chapel limped up to the table, “Is there a problem?”
The man glanced at Johnny, saw an old man in work worn Khakis and said, “I want the maître-d’ to move these people. I have important guests coming!”
Jesus came almost on a run, “I’m sorry Mr. Ryan, but your party will not be seated here. I’ve…”
Ryan put his hands on the backs of Jesse and Felicia’s chairs, “No! This is my table. It’s where I always sit! Now move…”
Aaron, stepping directly behind Ryan grated out, “Get your hands off my wife’s chair, and step away from the ladies. Now!”
Ryan looked over his shoulder and involuntarily flinched away from Matt, who was glaring at him, then saw Aaron’s badge. He sidestepped, muttering to Jesus, “This is my table, I don’t care who these people are they need to…”
Billy interrupted, “Hey Johnny, who is this turd? I thought you guys on the board had a better screening process?”
Johnny Chapel smiled, “I must have been out the day he was proposed Billy. And yes, I think we might to need to revisit our nomination procedures, and…”
The others in the dining room were now completely silent, watching the confrontation and some had even turned around in their chairs to get a better view, as the old man, Charlie, and Cliff walked back into the dining room from the back. Charlie looked at Jesus and Johnny, “Is there a problem here?”
Jesus started to speak, but Johnny cut him off, “Apparently Mr. Ryan here thinks this is his table, and wants us interlopers moved elsewhere. He’s apparently meeting important people today.”
Cliff laughed, “What are we, Johnny? Chopped liver?”
Billy interjected, “Maybe he’s meeting the SEC investigators that want to talk to him. I hope his lawyer is coming too.”
Ryan turned on Billy, “What… I’m not…”
The old man said loudly, “And I’m the rancher you’re going to bankrupt, and,” pointing to Matt, “That is the deputy and my ranch manager your little pet investigator lied to people about. Say hello, Matt!”
Matt flexed his shoulders and scowled as only a Marine Gunny can scowl, and Ryan physically quailed away from him. Charlie Waters made a shooing motion, “Go away Mr. Ryan. We will accept your resignation from the club effective immediately. You do not threaten my friends, nor their employees.”
Ryan turned red, “I can buy and sell…”
Johnny burst out laughing, “You? Ryan, you’re not a pimple on the ass of any of us. And John Cronin and his family have been in Texas, what John, a hundred and thirty, forty years? And his grandfather was one of the original oilmen that brought in the Permian Basin oil boom.”
The old man didn’t say anything, just smiled, and Ryan recoiled from that smile and the look in his eyes. He turned and shambled toward the door, and Billy shouted, “Make you a good price for that piddling little ranch there fella,” as Ryan disappeared out the door, to the applause of the diners.
Jesse whispered to Felicia, “And this will be all over town by supper.”
Felicia’s tinkling laugh made everyone look at her, “I’m sorry, but I’m hungry. Can we eat now that the show’s over?”
Everyone laughed, and the men all took their seats, as three waiters showed up with waters, menus and refills for Jesse and Felicia as Jesus hovered nervously in the background. Charlie finally said, “Jesus, revoke Mr. Ryan’s privileges, turn his guests away, and tell them he is no longer welcome here.” He pointed to Cliff, the old man, and Johnny, “We’re a quorum as far as the board is concerned, with our chairman emeritus here. We’ve decided Mr. Ryan does not represent what the Petroleum Club stands for, and I will notify the secretary to refund his dues for the month.”
Jesus nodded, “Si Señor. I am sorry for the problem, I should have…”
The old man said, “No Jesus, this needed to be done. Matter of fact, I think it went pretty well.”
Billy snickered, “It’s a good start. Y’all might be getting a ranch cheap in the near future, unless I miss my guess.” He glanced at the menu as the waitress hovered, “Ribeye, medium rare, all the trimmings. Tea to drink, and oil and vinegar on the salad, please.”
She nodded, and moved around the table taking orders. When she got to Felicia, she ordered the fish, then asked the waitress something in Spanish that had Jesse grinning as the waitress looked at her strangely before saying, “Si Señora.”
Matt said resignedly, “What did you just do? That was way too fast for me to get anything other than I think you said sauce.”
Felicia grinned, “I asked for the sauce the chef makes for the kitchen help.”
Jesse laughed, “Oh, I’ve gotta try that. I’m betting it’s better than what’s normally served with the fish.”
The rest of the meal was peaceful, if you call old stories, and reminiscences of four old men peaceful. There was a lot of laughter, some sad moments, and Aaron and Matt spending most of the time with their mouths hanging open in disbelief. Jesse and Felicia finally escaped to the bathroom, and Jesse showed her the pictures of the old red brick house that was the original club and the beautiful interior. She also told Felicia what she’d remembered from the old man’s stories of his dad, that he was one of the founding board members.
As they were coming back down the hall, Jesus approached them, “I am so sorry for…”
Jesse waved him off, “Not your fault Jesus. At least I didn’t have to shoot the bastard.”
Jesus’ eyes got big, “You wouldn’t…”
“Disparity of force. I would have defended myself or Felicia as needed.”
Jesus nodded solemnly, “Then I’m glad it ended the way it did. My wife’s brother works on Wildcat, should I…”
Felicia told him in Spanish about the threat against Matt and Mr. Cronin, and that there was significant legal trouble headed for Ryan. Jesus thanked her, and they saw him heading for the phone as they stepped back into the dining, room, Felicia said, “That little conversation will ensure the hands know what happened today, and hopefully give them enough lead time to find new jobs.”
As they left, Jesse asked, “Is Uncle Billy not coming?”
The old man shook his head, “No, he’s got business with Charlie and Cliff, he represents both of them. Johnny’s grandson is now his lawyer, he likes ‘keeping it in the family’ as he says.”
Once they were in the truck, Jesse said, “Papa, wasn’t that a little over the top?”
“That whole thing with Ryan in there? I mean…”
“We didn’t plan on doing it that way, originally we were going to get him in the private room Jesus had set up and do it there. But since he started the shit in public, all bets were off. And you know Billy, he knows how to get people’s goats. He does that for a living.”
It was a quiet drive back to the ranch, each buried in their own thoughts.
A week later, right at dusk, the dogs headed for the front door, barking their warning barks, just as everyone was sitting down to supper. The old man and Aaron both got up, and the old man stopped in the office to grab his 1911 out of the holster. They got the dogs down, and hiding the pistol behind his leg, he opened the front door.
Two Hispanics stood there, and from the resemblance he figured they were father and son, “Yes?”
The older one, hat in hand asked in halting English, “Señor, my truck is… broke down. My phone, she is dead. May I use your phone to call?”
Looking out the front door, he could see the rain in the distance, and asked, “Donde esta tu camión.”
The older man pointed back up Hwy 18, “A mile, maybe a little more.”
“Aaron, go get Felicia please,” He opened the screen door, “Please come in.”
A quick back and forth in fluid Spanish between the older man and the younger followed, and the older man said, “Gracias por tu ayuda, we… appreciate it, Señor.”
The young man turned and started walking off the porch as Felicia came down the hall. More back and forth followed too fast for the old man to catch, other than names. Felipe and Cruz, and he thought a last name of Martinez. Felicia was shaking her head, a sad smile on her face as she turned to him, “John, they were hands on Ryan’s ranch, but they left this afternoon when Ryan threw his lunch at the cook and went on a tirade against lazy incompetent Mexicans. Felipe says all of the Hispanic hands left in mass, and he and his son Cruz were going to stay with his sister down below Dryden while they look for ranch work.”
The old man whistled, “That’s… interesting. Wonder what’s wrong with the truck?”
More back and forth ensued, and he heard radiator. He shook his head, “It’s Sunday, nobody is going to be open.” He thought for a second, then raised his voice, “Matt, Aaron, we need to go drag a truck down to the yard.” He turned to the man, “Felipe, we will go pull your truck to our yard to get it off the road. Nothing is going to be open today to fix it. You can stay in the bunkhouse tonight if you would like.”
“Gracias, Señor. ¿puedo llamar al teléfono de mi hermana?”
“Felicia show him to the phone so he can call his sister, and he’d probably like to eat something.”
Aaron and Matt came down the hall and Aaron asked, “What do we need, and which truck do you want to use?”
“The Suburban, and I think there is a tow strap in the back. There should be, anyway.” Felicia led Felipe down the hall, and the old man said, sotto voice, “Aaron, you stay here, just in case.”
Aaron nodded, and Matt said, “I’ll check the Suburban.” The old man stepped into the office and grabbed his gun belt off the hat rack, flipping it around his waist as he walked out the front door. Quickly checking the 1911, he slid it back in the holster, as Matt slammed the back hatch, “Tow strap?”
Matt nodded, “And a chain if we need it.”
They got in and the old man drove up Hwy 18 until the saw the truck barely off the road, “Figures, it’s a Ford.”
Matt laughed, “You really don’t like Fords do you, John?”
The old man grumbled, “Had one strand me once, never again.” A boom of thunder and flash of lightning interrupted him, and he rolled his shoulders, “Let’s do this before we all get wet.”
Matt got out and the old man turned around, then backed up to the stranded Ford pickup, guided by Matt’s hand signals. He stopped and Matt opened the back hatch, pulling out the tow strap and chain as the old man got out.
He walked back to the pickup, and said, “Cruz, right? Do you know how to tow a vehicle?”
“No, Señor. I am… not sure.”
“Would you let Matt drive?”
“Si, Señor.” He slid over, smiling with relief.
Matt walked around the hood, “Okay, it’s hooked up, got about four feet of slack. Did I hear you want me to drive?”
“I want you in the pickup, I’m too old to yank on a steering wheel with no power steering. I want to pull it into the back yard, by the corral.” The first drops of cold rain splashed off the windshield, and he said, “Let’s go.”
By the time the old man got back in the Suburban, Matt was already behind the wheel of the pickup, and was giving him a thumbs up. The old man eased the Suburban forward until he felt the drag of the pickup, then waved his arm in a forward motion, gradually easing the power on. The pickup came up smoothly, and he towed it slowly back to the house, easing through the back gate, and stopped with just enough room to get the Suburban out.
Felipe stood anxiously in the yard, along with Felicia and Ernesto, and as soon as the truck stopped, he jumped in the bed, handing saddle and tack to Cruz and Ernesto, as Felicia directed them in Spanish to put it in the barn. The last thing was two small suitcases, and Ernesto grabbed them and headed for the bunkhouse as the skies opened up.
Ten minutes later, everyone was seated around the dining room table, as Felicia and Jesse served up more ham steaks, “Sorry, there isn’t going to be any leftovers, and more biscuits should be coming out in a couple of minutes.”
Cruz said something softly to Felipe, then said, “We… appreciate your… hospitality. Papa’s sister cannot come before tomorrow, she has no one to watch the… children.”
“De nada,” the old man said. He glanced at Matt, “We can look at the truck in the morning. Maybe it’s an easy fix.”
After everyone had been fed, and the kids put down, Felicia came back into the kitchen, “John, I don’t know what they are going to do. Felipe is Cruz father; but the mother is long dead, and he was talking about leaving Cruz with his sister while he tries to find work. Felipe has a little money, and hopes it will be enough to get the truck fixed. The truck, their saddles and tack, and their clothes are apparently all they have, and they left without their last paychecks. From what he was saying, Cruz had been working full time as a handyman on the ranch since he graduated from high school in the spring.”
The old man looked at her, “Why the sudden interest in them?”
Felicia shrugged, “Maybe I’m feeling like we’re partially responsible?”
“What goes around, comes around?”
“Well, Matt could use some help.”
“Lemme think about it.”
Felicia got up, hugged the old man and headed for the back door, “Muchas gracias, Señor John,” she said softly.