CigarBox – Luby’s
Ray left the little west Texas town shortly after he talked to June, and drove to Killeen some four hundred miles distant arriving late that night. Killeen sits in a flat area of the state with nothing to really attract anyone there except a sprawling army base called Fort Hood. With the influx of so many soldiers the town hosts scores of apartment houses. They fell into various stages of disrepair. The usual life span for one of these buildings was about forty-two years, with them ending up gutted and vacant. This is where Ray’s theory came in. He believed that if you could renovate, or even rebuild, then it was far better than new construction at new rates and prices. He had sent proposals all over the state to various rental agencies and one in Killeen had answered him. They weighed his proposal in the balance, and, like he, figured it may be better to renovate than sell and build all over again. Ray had contracted to help rebuild an apartment complex there. His crew of five followed behind him with all of the equipment that Claudette had assisted him in purchasing. The equipment would help him
rebuild walls, set more concrete, just about anything just short of actually building a building from the foundation up. In time, he’d hoped to have a “dozer” and other heavy equipment required for more extensive jobs, but for now he’d get by and get his feet firmly on the ground. He’d done jobs like this before, but it was always at someone else’s employ. Now he was the contractor, and he ran the show.
Ray’s license was no good in Killeen, but his experience was, and he knew how to do many different things. Putting up homes in the Bend, with its west Texas flair had schooled him in many areas, and that all came in handy now. He spent the weekend sizing up the job, and Monday he commenced. This job had to be completed with all possible dispatch because the company was taking “down time” all the time the crew was doing the rebuild. Meanwhile the manager, assistant manager, and the regular maintenance men were maintained on salary, albeit the maintenance men were used with the rebuild, and they needed to get back to productive work.
All that week he progressed from apartment to apartment. The manager of the complex was amazed at Ray’s expertise even to the point of offering him a job as maintenance foreman when the rebuild was through. Ray politely declined, saying that he preferred to live in west Texas and work contract labor jobs that fed him, and his family, and he was able to come and go as he pleased. Inwardly he hoped that this new venture would push on to become something larger for him, and he still hoped to rope Claudette in as a partner thereby funding his ideas of rebuilds, or even construction later down the path. Prison had left its mark on Ray, and he hated to be what he considered to be “tied down,” and a regular job would do that. Add to this the fact that he made a lot more money than any “maintenance foreman” and didn’t want to trade that for any false security that a “steady” job had to offer.
The week progressed and Ray began to pull ahead of his original schedule. One morning the manager greeted him as he showed up at his usual seven-thirty sharp, coffee cup in hand and tool belt slung over his shoulder.
“What are you doing for lunch today?”
“Oh, I was thinking about one of them fancy sandwiches ya’ll got over on the highway.”
The lady smiled and said, “Well today is boss’s day, and since I’m your boss I’m taking you out to lunch. You’ll eat a plate lunch today. You keep getting any thinner and you’ll blow away in this wind.”
Normally Ray would not go to a restaurant with any lady except his wife, but since he was far from home, and it was only lunch and not dinner he took her up on the offer. He worked the rest of the morning at his usual clip, but took off a few minutes before lunch so he could go to the restroom and clean up so he would be more presentable to the lady he would eat with. He removed his shirt and took a “spit” bath and after sniffing beneath his arms, he made his way to the car where the manager, and her assistant manager were waiting. Soon, the two ladies and Ray were on their way to a cafeteria.
They arrived about eleven forty-five and the line was not as long as they expected, but it was “boss’s day” so there were more than a few finely dressed men and women eating today. Ray checked out the fare and chose a chicken fried steak, broccoli with cheese, and mashed potatoes. They went to the rear of the cafeteria and commenced to eat.
As he ate, his meat Ray noticed a pickup truck sitting in front of the building. The windows went all the way down so he could see that the man had parked but not turned off the engine by the exhaust still coming out the rear pipe. Ray was a man of instinct so he kept his eye on the man. He noticed that the man was “seething,” and staring into the building. He thought the guy must be upset about something, but just kept looking up at him off and on as he ate his meal.
“How much longer do you think it will be before we’ll be able to rent apartments, Ray,” the manager asked?
Taking his eyes off the truck for a moment Ray replied, “No more than three more weeks. The work’s going faster than I expected, and you’ll be able to let some of the places within three weeks from now. Then we can work our way around to the other areas. That way the company can start to get back some of the money it’s spending on the rebuild.”
The lady took a bite, and continued, “Now, just what do I have to do to convince you to stay on here after the rebuild?”
Ray smiled, “Ma’am, I’ve been in west Texas so long I got sand in my lungs. If I didn’t have them mountains, and deserts I’d get all claustrophobic. Besides that, I owe my relative a bit of money on this venture, and she’d be powerful disappointed if I was to just take a job and give up on my dream.”
“And what is your dream, Ray?”
He took a bite of his chicken fried steak and said, “I want to repair apartments all over the state. I think I have something to offer people, and ways to save them money on these things. I only got a crew of five now, but in a year from now I’ll have a crew of ten, or even twenty, and we’ll be repairing complexes as far away as Austin, or Houston.”
“A man of your talents could be running maintenance for several complexes.”
“A man of my talents could never punch a clock ma’am. You’d hate me. I need to work as I see fit. Also, I need that west Texas desert. I couldn’t live here. It’s too close! Your air is wet. Can’t breathe here!”
Before he could take his next bite there was a loud crash from the front window. Ray looked up to see that the truck was now inside the establishment, resting on a table and the man was crawling out of it firing a gun at a man and screaming, “Well, was it worth it?”
Everyone in the cafeteria froze and watched the horrific scene unfold. When the first man was shot Ray thought, almost in amusement, “Well, that’s one wife that guy shouldn’t have messed with.” In west Texas a man would shoot another man over infidelity at the drop of a hat, so the driver of the truck shooting a man at a table he’d just run over and screaming, “Was is worth it,” fit right into Ray’s world view.
Then the man looked around at all the people some sitting, some standing at their tables. One man rose and began to wipe his mouth with a napkin. The shooter raised the automatic weapon and fired a series of shots. The man with the handkerchief fell, and the shooter yelled yet again, “Well? Was it worth it?”
Now pandemonium reigned! People dove beneath tables, not daring to move, realizing that something was very wrong with this scene. Ray grabbed the two ladies by their arms and pulled them under the table where they sat.
“Stay down, and stay quiet.” Suddenly the two ladies saw strength and authority in his eyes. He wasn’t just a little man in a floppy hat any more. Ray looked for a weapon; any weapon, but he could see none. He knew that if the man would just come close enough he could break his neck. In prison he’d seen men get “Jack-Macked,” where a convict would put a can of Jack Mackerel in a sock and hit another man in the head until he was dead. But he had no sock, and no can here. He had to bide his time. He watched the man progress toward a table. At the same time he looked around again for a weapon, anything he could use to take the man down. All he found was a butter knife, but that would do if the man should come close. Ray was no fool. This man had not one but two automatic pistols. Still, if he would just come near Ray knew he could push the butter knife up under his chin and into the brain case. The shooter walked over to the nearest table.
Looking at a lady and her mother at the table where he had just shot the man who had been standing wiping his mouth with the handkerchief he said, “Well? Was it,” and shot the older woman in the face. She fell back and didn’t move at all. He then drew a bead on the younger woman. She cried out, and put her arm in front of her face. The gun went off. The bullet struck her forearm, and as it traveled along the muscle the force slammed her arm into her face, spattering blood, and knocking her unconscious. The man bent over her and she wasn’t moving, her face covered with blood. Looking around at the frightened stares the shooter yelled, “Take a look at what Bell County has done to me!” He moved to the next table.
Reaching under it he grabbed one lady by her ankle and pulled her out into the floor. As she quietly whimpered, “No, please, not me, please,” he shot her once in the forehead. She stopped crying and moving. He looked at another table where a woman, her mother and child were.
He walked over to it and looked at the younger woman, holding her baby and asked, “Is this your child?”
“Yes, it is.”
Motioning with the pistol he told her, “You can go.”
As she ran for the door, she heard the shot that killed her mother. Ray waited for the shooter to come near him. He grieved for the people who’d already died, but he couldn’t help that. This was not the first time he’d been in a tight fix and he remembered the old prison rule, “The main thing is not to panic!” He figured he could drive the butter knife up through his chin and into his brain. About that time, a Mexican man of about seventy years ran for the killer yelling, “Someone’s got to do something!” The shooter casually shot him in the chest and he fell at his feet. Walking over to the table where the man had come from he noticed that the younger woman who had been
there had run, and the older woman was staring at her husband.
“Is that your husband?”
The old woman nodded with tears in her eyes, not taking them off her dead husband.
“Then you need to be with him.”
The man drew a bead on her head, and as she crossed herself, the shot rang out and the old woman fell over backwards. There was a crash from the rear of the restaurant and a man broke through the rear window, stopped, turned and began to pull people to safety.
Then the shooter came to Ray’s table. Before Ray could move, he grabbed the assistant manager and fired a single shot. The body convulsed violently. Then he shot the manager. Ray saw the lady fall, but for some reason the bullet had not hit her in the head, but instead hit her in the upper shoulder. The shooter looked at Ray and asked, “What are you looking at?”
Ray stared at him coldly and said in a very calm west Texas drawl, “Not very fucking much!”
Looking at the assistant manager, the shooter said, “She don’t look too bad, here’s another one,” and took aim.
Ray looked at the fallen woman. The gun was aimed squarely at her head. Time had run out for the effort to kill the shooter. His finger tensed on the trigger. Then, suddenly Ray saw another man appear. His friend Juan stepped out of thin air.
“Come here,” he motioned to Ray, “You can’t stay here any longer my friend.”
“It’s your time, old friend. I can’t control this man’s destiny, but I can help you. You’ve had a life of depravity. Save this woman on the floor. Throw yourself over her and take the bullet for her.”
“Because, amigo, there is no one else. You must do it. There are many things you do not understand, but you will in time.”
Ray looked at the wounded lady on the floor. He looked up at the killer and then back at Juan. Then, slowly, deliberately, he lay across the lady.
“What do you know, a hero,” the shooter said, and put one bullet in the back of Ray’s head. Satisfied with his work at that table he moved onto the next one. Working his way around the room, killing, reloading, and killing again until the police broke into the room and began to shoot at him. He ran back to the restroom. Turning to reload again he saw the old Indian, Juan standing there staring at him.”
“What are you looking at old man?”
“I am looking at a dead man.” Juan extended his arm and brought his hand together as a fist and then forced it down, the killer’s body crumbling to the floor in sync as he did so. Then, walking over to him he said, “Give me your gun.” The man gave up the pistol like a little child. Juan took deliberate aim at the man’s head and he cowered and tried to cover his head with his left hand. Juan put one bullet through his wrist and head, lay the gun beside his still twitching body and then disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The Butcher Shop
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