“My name's Wade. Most you all know me. I probably should say my name's Brown. But it's not. My name's Wade. You remember me from high school, Alex. We threw that fossil out the back window of Miss Dutton's science room. You remember? My name's Wade Kingston, people. And this is a heap of bull poop.”
A short woman wearing half a dozen bracelets and sat at the head of one of the cafeteria tables with a worn book in front of her nodded to Brown to go on. She held her hand up just slightly when a few giggles started along the back wall.
“They judged me to come here and talk about drinking and all that. Being angry and trying to kill Tuck Collins and all that. But I’d just soon they put me in jail with Dennie, that’s my nephew. He’s there and I’m here. They didn’t judge him to go to no meetings, and he should, cause Tuck’s got him hooked on pills and who knows what else.”
Brown stopped talking and the room went silent. About six others, the back wall gang, were also court ordered to attend AA meetings once a day as part of various offenses. Brown never joined them in that back galley. Their plan was to float and do their time. Just a different kind of prison. Two or three showed up for meetings drunk, stood up and apologized and cried and said they’d do better. Back to jail for them, and then the courts would place another two or three in the Gunther House, the halfway house for Teller County, and then the Gunther administration would have those two or three signed up for meetings. Young boys, mostly. And most of them were also attending, by the order of the court, of course, to attend NA meetings. It was a mess and Brown was in the middle of it.
He was still standing, but didn’t have much else to say, it seemed. Then he pointed to a tall man wearing a thin jacketslumped next to the three coffee pots beside the restroom.
“That’s Stan Collins there, folks. Just wanted to say I got nothing against you, you understand. But that brother of yours, he’s going to kill my Dennie, and I won’t have it.”
Stan hadn’t looked up from his coffee. He’d listened to Brown and wanted to stand up against him when he mentioned Tuck. He’d come to have at him, actually. Was going to catch him outside when they all these poor people made a circle and done some sort of prayer or whatever to the higher power. One guy told him when he showed up for the meeting that his higher power was Andy Griffith. You can have anything you want as your higher power, he told him. It don’t have to be God. Stan told him that was a good thing, that a man better have some options and moved along, found his place at the coffee pot. And now here was Brown Bottle Kingston pointing him out and speaking to him directly.
“I suppose I should’ve figured you’d spot me, Brown,” he said. He sat up straight in the chair. “Stupid to think different now that I give some thought to it.”
The bracelet-wearing woman turned to get a look at Stan. “Is there a problem?”
“Yep, but we’ll work it out. Step out, Brown?”
Stan scanned the room. He knew about half the people there and they knew enough about him and about Brown to understand. This lady running the show might not. He stood up and pulled his jacket tightly around the swell of his belly and walked to the door, stopping briefly without looking back to Brown, then stepped out into the evening air.
The strange scent of snow was in the air though it was the second week of December of not a flake had fallen. But it was coming. It was warm that day when Brown stepped past him while Lafe pulled lettuce up from the ground, even for autumn. Pulled a pistol on him in the back bedroom after slamming the door through. That sound, that snapping of metal and hinge, broke him away from Lafe. By the time he made it into the trailer, Brown was standing over Tuck with the pistol. Other than Tuck’s scared breathing, not a sound. Eve must have made the call. Police cruisers arrived within minutes. They’d already been there once that day. Place and purpose was easily definedand to face facts, Tuck’s had become a hotspot for the troopers, on the radar and a long list of other dealers in the region. But this time they had to wrestle Wade Kingston to the ground. This after luring him away from Tuck Collins, a crying and pitiful man who they wanted to arrest more for dealing drugs but couldn’t. Brown could have shot Tuck. He did not. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was hesitation, which could have been the same thing, more or less. But he didn’t kill him then. It was a thought. Something to go on.
Stan sniffed the air, waited for Brown. When he stepped out the door, Stan half-expected the fighting to start right away. He’d been preparing for that, but he was prepared for Brown to start off with conversation.
“I got no bones to pick with you, Stan,” Brown said evenly, squaring his shoulders. “But it might just be that you got plenty for me, so just go on ahead and try what you think you ought toand be done with it. I settle my scores one at a time.”
Stan took a step forward and Brown held his hand out, spoke quietly. “Now you ought to be fair and tell me if you got a gun somewhere on you, cause I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t have mine on me.”
It all puzzled Stan more than he hoped was showing to Brown. “I ain’t got a gun. But I’ll tell you one thing. We have to settle this now, this thing with you and Tuck.”
“That’s for Tuck to settle. Not you. I said as much in there with the boozers.”
“Now see, you’re interrupting me, Brown. That won’t do.”
“Don’t call me Brown.”
Stan rubbed his chin and looked at the starless sky, sniffed that scent of snow, took it deep into his lungs, and tried to compose himself. “We’re not getting too far with words it seems to me. Why worry about one?”
Brown placed his hand on the door, stood a half beat, and then walked four steps across until he standing in Stan’s face. “I understand you don’t want me around Tuck. That’s cause you love him and don’t want harm put to him. That’s how I am with Dennie and so we’re just caught in some real poop here, Stan. Rock and a hard place, for sure.”
Brown started back into the meeting and Stan coughed loudly. Brown turned around slowly.
“I don’t think you’re going to kill my brother. But I can’t let you do anything to him. And so, yep, we’re stuck a little, but at least I know you’re not going to kill him. It’s more than I had before we talked.”
“Well, hell now. Good for you, Stan.”