It’s common for me to start one of these stories planning on making it short and sweet, but then my imagination takes hold, and it starts growing. This is Part One … of something.
Barney Parmenter thought it a pleasant surprise when he saw the kid thumbing at the entrance to Interstate 35W near the Fort Worth Stockyards. As a rule, Barney didn’t pick up hitchhikers. This one he recognized.
Ladson McKoy. Lord, have mercy. He was a rounder, and a rambler, and all that was dependable were the twinkles in his eyes. Barney saw the look of recognition in the kid, who reached down to pick up a tan paper grocery bag that apparently contained some dirty clothes.
“What in hell you doing thumbing up a Fort Worth freeway, Ladson? You trying to get back home?”
“Yep,” he said. “I sure am lucky you come along, Mr. Parmenter. You headed back to Gainesville?
“Quick as I get there. Get in, boy.”
Ladson climbed in the Silverado and sat the bag between his legs.
“Damned if I know how I got here, Mr. Parmenter. I woke up eighty miles south of where I expected.”
Barney laughed. That was Ladson.
“How old are you now, son?”
“I’ll be twenty-four in a month,” he said, “if’n I make it.”
“Well, that’s old enough where you don’t need to call me Mister. Barney.”
“Ladson,” he said.
Ladson McKoy had always exceeded the sum of his parts. As a high school senior, he hadn’t rushed but for 575 yards but led the Leopards in scoring. They said in Gainesville that he played APB, “All Purpose Back,” and it made double sense because the local police had occasionally issued all-points bulletins for his young ass. The town had a heap of characters, but Ladson had been one since he was sixteen years old. Barney thought him a throwback to the days of Bobby Layne and Dandy Don Meredith. When the games started, rumors flew in the grandstands about the boy being out at a roadhouse, one out in the country where they didn’t pay much attention to the IDs of good ballplayers, and, when they ended, it was that damned fool Ladson McKoy, done led us to victory again. Before the eighth game of the season, the coach had briefly kicked Ladson off the team, but it was reduced to a one-game suspension when it was discovered that the joint the coach had thought to be marijuana was no more than a hand-rolled cigarette. Tobacco was a suspension, not a crime. Barney started laughing out loud thinking about it.
“What you been doing down here in Fort Worth so bright and early?” Ladson asked.
“Ah, just bidness,” Barney said. “Struck out from home ‘bout sunrise ‘cause I wanted to be at the front door of the bank when the door opened. I ain’t much for on-line paying, and I needed to get something paid off before it cost me no more money.”
“Nah,” Barney said. “You’re riding in it. Three years old, and it’s finally mine. Noreen’ll be lobbying for a new car before the week’s out. Where your car located?”
“I’m right satisfied it’s in the parking lot of the Whataburger on 82,” Ladson said. “One of my buddies picked me up there last night about seven ‘cause I was a-needing me a designated driver.”
“The details get a little sketchy from there?”
“Hell, yeah. Last I remember, I was dancing with some of them college gals at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton. I woke up with one of them in a bedroom, up above one of them honky tonks in the Stockyards. I got up, told her I sure enjoyed it, but I had to get on out of there. She said, ‘Well, how you gon’ get home, darling?’ and I don’t think she knowed my name, and I’m damned sure I ain’t got a clue about hers, so I kissed her on the cheek, and found this grocery bag behind the door, and damned if there wudn’t a change of underwear that fit me, and a new pair of socks, and I reckon I never will pay that feller back ‘cause, since I don’t know who it was I slept with, I’m unlikely to ever learn who slept there before me.
“So I hoofed it over to the super highway, and I ain’t been there ten minutes when you picked me up.”
“Clean living,” Barney said.
“Yeah. That’s what it is.”
“How you feeling?”
“Well, I worked up a little sweat walking up out of the Stockyards,” Ladson said. “I reckon I’m all right. I ain’t ready to brand no cattle or nothing.”
“You up for a cup of coffee?”
“Hell, yeah, Barney.”
“Normally I’d stop at a Circle K or something, but that’s because it’s too much trouble to stir some Sweet ‘n’ Low in a cup while you driving. I’d be a cinch to scald myself. Since I got you to take care of that, I reckon we’n go through the drive-through and get us a Egg McMuffin or something.”
“I got it,” Ladson said. “Least I’n do for the ride.”
They got back on the highway and sipped their coffee. Traffic wasn’t bad once they got north of the Alliance Airport. He always got a kick out of staring at that big speedway on the left. He thought it wouldn’t be bad to go to one of those races one day. He’d talked about it. Some friends claimed they could get free tickets, but when the time came, no one ever followed through on it, and he reckoned he could watch on TV.
“You ever been to the races over there, Ladson?”
“Yeah. Several times. I remember them things about as much as I do how I got to Fort Worth last night. That track considers itself Fort Worth, don’t it? Must be something about Cowtown leads me toward not remembering stuff.
“One thing’s kinda stupid. You know, you’d think the worst thing could happen would be waking up with a damned hangover, and just about the time you get to circulating that’s when they crank up all them motors on them stock cars, but, I declare, that race starts, they’s a heap of folks hurting from all what went on the night before.”
“I’m pretty sure I done got too old for that,” Barney said.
“Aw, go on,” Ladson replied.
The boy reached in his grocery bag and fetched a cell phone he turned on.
“I might find a hint or two on how I got where I got to,” he said.
“You on Facebook, Ladson?”
“Nah, Facebook get you in too much trouble. Ever’body into ever’body else’s bidness. I got a page there. Don’t check it once ever’ month no more. I keep up with my Twitter. It’s right good for shooting the shit with the young ladies.”
“Maybe that gal what you slept with’ll look you up on Twitter,” Barney said. “You reckon she remembers your name?”
“My luck she does,” he said.
Barney chuckled and took another sip. It was about getting cooled down enough to drink.
“I believe that gal that drug me off to Fort Worth was on something,” Ladson said.
“Well, yeah, but I wasn’t doing nothing that wudn’t legal. If I’d’ve had it to do over, I reckon I’d’ve drunk beer and not started doing shots, but that tends to happen when you get to raising hell with a bunch of brand-new friends.”
“Who was playing at Dan’s?”
“Goddamighty, I’d’ve liked to seed that. … So she was smoking weed or something?”
“More like something, I’m guessing,” Ladson said. “A few details is just now coming back to me.”
“But you didn’t do nothing ‘cept drink?”
“Never have,” Ladson said. “I’ll smoke a cigarette now and again, but not no lefthanded’uns.”
Barney exited at Highway 82 and drove a few miles to where the Whataburger sat out front of a strip mall. The fact there was a couple police cruisers there didn’t seem too unusual. He reckoned the police probably got coffee on the house. What was unusual was how they all came streaming out the front door on the run when Ladson approached his ten-year-old F-150. They threw him across the hood, pinned his hands behind him, and commenced to reading him his rights.
Sheriff Wade Beaufort walked over to where Barney sat there idling in the parking lot.
“Where you and the boy been?” Beaufort asked.
“Picked him up thumbing on the side of the road.”
“They’s a gal they found dead in Fort Worth, over in the Stockyards. Apparently, they was somebody put Ladson and that gal together earlier in the night.”
“I’ll be dogged.”
“He act funny when you picked him up?”
“Nope. Same Ladson I’ve always known,” Barney said. “I don’t believe he done it. I don’t believe he’d’ve acted how he did if he was guilty of anything other than picking up a good-looking woman. Ladson ain’t no saint, but he ain’t no murderer, neither.”
“Well, it sure is looking that way, Fred. How ‘bout dropping by the jail sometime this afternoon?”
“I’m Barney, Wade.”
“I’m sorry,” the Sheriff said. “I was a-thinking of your brother.”
“I’ll be by directly,” Barney said.
Barney drove east on Highway 82, headed to the house. He wondered if he still had a pack of cigarettes in the console. He’d about quit, but he still kept a pack for when he was stressed out and needed a smoke to help him think. With his eyes still on the road, he went rummaging around with his right hand and felt something cold and steel. When he looked at it, he realized he might just have in his possession a murder weapon.
Stay tuned to see where I take this little tale next. In the meanwhile, take a look of my non-fiction blogs at www.montedutton.com, and my books are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1