TITLE: Me And the Boys
By Mark Bell
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We can be found, just sitting around,
swapping lies about things thaat we've done.
Reminiscing about the times we had
in the days when we used to be young.
It's easy to find us, just look for old cowboys.
When you see 'em you'll know you found me and the boys.
The premise to the story is there were four friends. One remains alive and arrives after the third member of the group passes away. Eventually, he'll be telling the groups old cowboy stories to the other characters. This is the opening scene.
For now, I am looking for comments on readability, "realness" of the characters, setting, dialogue.
Dad didn't like the old man because he was black. I'd heard my dad say so. Some of my friends from school wouldn't come over to visit because of Dad’s racial views. It even got me beat up at school once, right after we moved to town. But, kids quickly figured out I didn’t think like my dad. And, it never happened again.
But, the old man being black didn't have anything to do with why I didn't like him. I didn't like the old guy because he was mean. One day, not long after my family moved to the neighborhood, my football rolled into his driveway. When I went to get it, the old guy chased me away with a shovel, and kept my football. I eventually learned that every kid in the neighborhood had a similar story. No body liked him.
No one knew much about him, either. We knew the mailbox carried the name "J. Hanson." We knew he was skinny, and short. Even 16 year old David Johnson, who stood just five foot seven inches was taller than the old man, or at least we thought so. It's hard to be sure with someone you rarely see.
Old Mr. Smith, our next door neighbor, told us about when the old man had moved in. One day, an old pickup truck pulled into the drive way. An old white-haired man got out, opened the garage, pulled the truck in side and closed the door. A big truck rolled up a couple days later. Some men emptied it and the truck drove away. Ever since then, the old man came out on Tuesdays to cut the grass. He pulled his truck out the garage and drove off somewhere on Thursdays. Other than that, no one saw him—unless you stepped into his yard like I did that one day.
Then, one day, paramedics, an ambulance and two police cars roared up to his house—sirens blaring and lights flashing. They broke through the door when no one answered their pounding. A little while later, the paramedics came out pulling a stretcher with a lump under a sheet. Word got around fast that the old man had died. The police parked a patrol car outside to keep people from throwing rocks at the windows.
Three days later, a big limousine pulled up outside the old man's house. Out stepped another old man. This guy was white. I don’t mean just like "Caucasian." I mean white. He made my pale, easily sun burnt skin, look well tanned. He slowly walked over to us three kids, smiling. All I could think was he was some kind of salesman.
"Hi, kids," he said bright and cheerful. "I was hoping you could tell me something about my old friend, Jimmy Hanson. He used to live there." He pointed at the house.
"He’s dead, sir," Billy croaked out. You could tell he was trying not to say it. He dropped his head and started shuffling after he did.
"I know, son," the old man said soothingly.
Dad came around the corner of the house. He’d been working in the garden and had his shovel in one hand. I guess he heard our voices.
"What’s going on," he asked looking at the stranger.
"Dad," I said excitedly. "This guy knew Old Man Hanson."
"That crazy madman," Dad asked, swinging the shovel to hold it in both hands like a weapon. He looked the stranger up and down.
"Put that thing down before you hurt yourself, mister," he told my Dad, shaking his head disgustedly. "I aint here to pick a fight. I came to find out about my friend."
"Your friend didn’t have any friends around here," Dad replied sourly. But he didn't lower the shovel. "Who are you, by the way?"
"I'm so sorry," the man said, truly sounding apologetic. "That was rude of me. Name's Dale Ward. Perveyor of the finest used cars in southern Colorado."
He reached out his hand towards my dad. But, Dad did not reach to shake it. Dale scowled and started to lower his arm. Impulsively, I reached out and clasped his hand with both of mine.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Ward," I said nervously.
He looked surprised. Then he kind of half-smiled out of the corner of his mouth.
"That's a very respectable boy you got there, mister," he said, looking at my Dad kind of deadpan. “You should be proud of him.”
Dad shuffled his feet nervously. I looked from one to the other not knowing what to do.
“How long did you know Old Man Hanson,” Billy asked breaking the lengthening silence.
"That's a long story, kid," he said after a pause. "The four of us were writing back and forth for nearly 30 years. We last met up…"
“Four of you,” Linda asked, sounding confused.
“Yep. There were four of us. Me and the boys,” Dale said wistfully. “Henry was from Arizona or New Mexico, he never was too specific about that. Norman was from Wyoming. Jimmy was from the Dakotas. And, I’m from Kansas. And the only one left.”
The last part came out kind of hollow and empty. It looked like Mr. Ward might be having trouble swallowing. He looked off toward Old Man Hanson's house, and sighed.
"One by one the others have all gone on to meet their maker," he said softly.
"How did you guys ever meet," my dad asked, breaking the awkward silence, a bit more involved now.
"Snow storm in Omaha," he said firmly, sounding cheerful again. "Stopped everything for three days. We got to talking at this truck stop, decided to share a room at the hotel across the highway. Bought all the booze we could find and had a binge. We've kept in touch pretty much ever since."
"But you didn’t know where this friend of yours was," dad asked, suspicious again. "You say his name was Jimmy?"
"Yep," the stranger said, spitting into the bushes, and letting his eyes slide up and down my father again. "That’s his name. Finest man with horses I ever saw." He glanced from my dad to us boys. "I knew where he was, even though he did stop writing a couple years ago. But, I kept writing him. I guess that’s how those guys in suits found me."
"Guys in suits," I asked bewildered.
"Lawyers, son," he told me, with another one of his half smiles. "They were trying to settle Jimmy's estate and get their pound of flesh. In real hurry about it, too. I don't like lawyers, even the ones who work for me." He laughed. "It enjoyed making 'em wait."
"Wait," Linda broke in excitedly. "Did you say horses? Old Man Hanson...I mean Mr. Hanson worked with horses?"
If it involved horses, Linda wanted to know about it. She loved to talk horses. She had read every book the library had on horses, and all the ones she could get from other libraries, too. She often said she wanted to be a cowgirl.
"Sure," Mr. Ward said, smiling a much more genuine and bigger smile. "He used to work a ranch up in Montana. He was in charge of the horses."
Now, he had all of our rapt attention. My Dad even put down his shovel. I glanced over at Linda. I'm not sure she was even breathing.
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