He paced back and forth across the room, slouched over, dragging the left leg and reciting the only poem he knew. “Twas many, many years ago. . ."
He was tired, he wanted to go out, he needed some fresh air, but alas he was a wanted man. The hunched look and game leg he was getting adept at, but his speech was the kicker. How does Stretch Johnson of Barnstable, Mass fit in and look inconspicuous in Centennial, Wyoming, a small village of about sixty or seventy people...people who constitute the town's businesses?
Finally he was ready and had no choice because he was out of food. He put on his old barn coat, his baseball cap, and headed to the small store down from the school, and on the south side of the road.
It was nippy. Here it was, nearly April, and the ground was still covered with snow, and it only 22 degrees. He entered a small store.
“Howdy, aren’t you the guy that moved into Abe’s old house?” a bright-eyed woman asked. She was a little overweight and dressed for comfort, not for speed or looks. “Welcome to the WallyMart of Centennial,” she said with a large and deep laugh.
He nodded. “Yes, I need some food. Is the weather always like this?” He picked up a few cans of beans, Vienna sausage, and such. He went to the back and found meat in a small freezer. He got two packages of hamburger and three loaves of bread.
“What about coffee, sugar, milk and beer...or libations,” the woman said. She watched him, hunched over and dragging that leg.
Just then a man entered. “Hi there, Sweet Thing. When are you leaving that no account man of yours and coming to live the life of luxury with me?” The two looked at each other as if their's was more than a casual friendship.
The man turned and saw him. “Howdy, nice spring day isn’t it?” The man got a can of snooce, a cup of coffee and a candy bar. “Got to get to work, damn transients are running the department ragged.” He put money on the counter, leaned across, and said something to the woman, causing her to frown.
He glanced outside and saw the deputy drive off in a large SUV. He quickly got a six-pack and a fifth of whiskey and paid the woman. “He patrols this area on a regular basis?” he asked.
She smiled. “Oh JB lives over beside you. He's my brother-in-law. and since his wife left him he gets his kicks teasing me, especially since I chose my husband over him a few years back.”
“Oh?” he replied, watching her bag his purchase.
She looked around and in a low tone said, “JB wanted to know if you were rehearsing for a stage or movie role, with the fake game leg and hump shoulder.”
He took his bags. Still hunched over and dragging the leg, he headed back for the little two room shack he was living in. He was worried. What if JB comes and asks for my ID, what if he . . .?
No TV, just a radio that only seemed to pick up country stations made him tense and edgy. His beard and hair were slowly growing, but it would take a month or so before it was long enough to hide his features. He thought about the Deputy’s remarks, maybe the hump and leg were overdoing it, so he removed the chunk of foam and began to walk normally. However, he did keep practicing so he wouldn't sound like he was from back east.
The next day he went back to the store and as he walked he saw she was working.
“Oh hi," she said. "Glad you lost that lousy disguise. Heck, it draws attention. It does not make you blend in.” She offered him some peanuts.
“Jealous husband swore he would do me in,” he replied with a laugh, again trying to hide his accent.
“None of my business unless you are casing this joint, and as you know by now there isn’t much in the till.” She showed him a basket of fresh apples.
He got some groceries together while she read the Readers Digest. When he came back to the counter she grinned. “Look, people like you stand out. Someone comes here and lives in Abe’s old shack. Does not go into town and heck, you know our prices are high and that we only sell to hunters and fishermen who need this or that.”
He smiled. “I am going crazy, but I need to stay a month or so before I go back.”
Go to the Corral, ask for Jack, and tell him you need a job. Tell him I said you would make a good dishwasher and bus boy.” She added, "Go to town and go to GoodWill. Buy yourself some clothes. You have seen what we wear: jeans, shirts and hiking boots, sneakers or cowboy boots. Get some and go to work. Then you will be like about ten others around here who are hiding out.”
He thanked her, paid for his purchases, and went to the Corral.
Jack was a nondescript man with a ponytail, and was dressed as she said. “The lady in the store said you needed a dishwasher-bus boy.”
“Yeah, you are the guy who is staying in Abe’s shack?” he said, “You an illegal alien?”
He shook his head no. “American born and bred. Just trying to evade a jealous husband and his nymphomaniac wife.” He tried to be nonchalant and convincing.
“No drugs, no boozing while you are working, and I don’t give a damn if you can and will do the work. We have a little lunch trade but we have a damn good dinner trade. Weekends, too, are good. Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings is when we do all of our business. We are closed on Monday and Tuesday. You have a Social Security Card?”
And so he took his groceries home and was back at two. The dishwasher was simple and the procedure was even simpler, he was to keep the tables bussed and the bar glasses washed and restocked. Also, he was responsible for cleaning up all messes.
Wearing his new used clothing, and with little need to talk, he blended in. The one thing he had to learn was to speak to everyone, wave to everybody and act as if he had known them all his life. This was hard for him but at home, well back in the shack he practiced his “Howdies, how you doing, sunshine feels good don’t it,” speeches.
One week, then two weeks turned to warm weather and more customers, so he worked harder and each passing day found his New England accent fading. He even enjoyed it in this little town at the foot of the Rockies. The gateway to the Snowie Range they called it.
© By Tom (tomWYO@aol.com)
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