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John Longbottom

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Town Hero

Lynn dashed upstairs to freshen up and Charlie went outside to check on Wilbur who had finally settled down and was lying peacefully by the back steps. With a grunt and a groan Charlie lowered himself to the next to bottom step to pet Wilbur and give him a treat. Wilbur’s obvious gratitude was so great that it dispelled any lingering misgivings Charlie may have had about spoiling Wilbur with this extravagance.

“Dammit, now I’m gonna have to buy these things on a regular basis, ‘cos you’re gonna expect them, ain’t ya boy? Although, I guess we’re both old enough to deserve a little pampering,” he said, still feeling a little guilty. Just then Lynn came out dressed in her new outfit complete with fancy boots. 

Charlie said, “I’ll drive.” Lynn looked at the old pickup truck and scrunched her face. “If you want to be a farm girl, then you’d better get used to riding in a real truck.” 

It took Lynn two tries to open the passenger door which protested being disturbed with a loud screech. Lynn inspected the seat before climbing in and tried to close the door which again protested loudly and stiffly. She pushed and pulled, almost breaking a nail but on the third try, with a barely concealed curse, she managed to close the door which was sagging on its hinges. Once safely seated in the cab she gave a loud, frustrated sigh and automatically looked for a non-existent seat belt.

Charlie, meanwhile, was watching all this with amusement and thought, who needs TV when real life can be so entertaining? then he chuckled. Lynn shot him a filthy look for that one. Charlie hauled himself into the truck and was pleasantly surprised when it started at the first try and he got them under way without incident. Wilbur slowly trotted behind to take up his customary guard post at the end of the farm road. 

When they got to the paved road, the inside of the truck was hot, and Lynn searched for the button to lower the window. There was no button, it had to be wound down manually. She looked for a handle and saw, not a crank handle but what looked like a pair of pliers attached to a square piece of metal sticking out of the door panel. Of course, when Lynn tried to turn them she hit the lock release lever and the vice grips fell to the floor.

They were there because Ellie was always wanting to crack the window open and when the handle broke, Charlie had attached an old pair of vice grips which were a bit clumsy, but they worked. Ellie, who was used to the quick-fix ways of country living, had always managed without complaint. Charlie never got around to replacing the handle and after Ellie had passed on and Wilbur had ceased riding shotgun, he didn’t see the need.

“Dammit,” said Charlie as he stopped the truck and, with a look of resigned patience, walked round the back of the truck, up to the passenger door, which he opened with one, firm tug. He then reset the grips and cracked open the window for Lynn, who was now laughing. Charlie smiled ruefully, shook his head, got back on his side and they finally headed into town.

The diner was about half full when they walked in. Lynn heard someone say, “Charlie.” Then everyone turned and looked at them. Someone started applauding, then the whole place was smiling and clapping. Charlie was mortified as he walked up to the counter, with Lynn tagging along, heads swiveled, and every pair of eyes followed their progress. The clapping dwindled and stopped as people returned their attention back to the business of eating.

“Dammit, Trixie,” said Charlie at the counter. “What the heck’s going on?”

Trixie, wearing her usual tight, white blouse with the tops of her ample forty-year-old breasts busting out, said, “Hi, Charlie. Hi, Lynn. Tom, the sheriff, was in here bragging about how Lynn here had sent that FBI agent a-packing. You’re the town hero young lady.” 

“Dammit,” said Charlie and Lynn giggled.

They got a booth over by the window where at least they were protected on one side, from prying eyes. 

“This town doesn’t need social media. We’ve gone viral in the diner,” Lynn said, trying to make light of the situation. Charlie seemed a little tense. The meaning of her comments was completely lost to him as he pretended to study the plastic menu card. Trixie, who normally presided behind the counter, came over and took their order.

They sat there for a while in a semi-awkward silence, Charlie fiddling with the utensils wrapped in a white paper napkin. Looking out of the window, Lynn waited for Charlie to speak. She was learning that, following a disruption of his normal routine, there was usually a silent detox period before Charlie rejoined the conversation. He was about to speak, and Lynn shifted her attention to him when someone walked up to the table. It was Darrell Traynor, one of Charlie’s morning coffee buddies.

“Hi, Charlie,” began Darrell, “We’ve missed you for coffee the past couple of days.” He smiled at Lynn.

“I’ve had company.” Charlie almost growled without looking at his friend.

“So I’ve heard,” Darrell said. “Aren’t you going to introduce me then?” He looked expectantly at Lynn who couldn’t decide whether he was leering or grinning.

“Darrell, Lynn. Lynn, Darrell,” said Charlie brusquely.

“Nice to meet you,” said Darrell and stuck out his hand. Lynn took it. It was warm and soft, and Lynn inwardly cringed a little. She decided she didn’t like this man and she had the idea that Charlie didn’t much like him either.

With his head bent part-way down, Charlie had been watching the exchange from under his untrimmed eyebrows. “We were in the middle of a conversation here, Darrell. Would you mind…?” Charlie just let the words hang there.

After a moment’s hesitation where he just looked at Charlie who was looking down at the table, Darrell said sullenly, “Sure Charlie.” And he shuffled off back to his table of buddies. 

Lynn had watched his retreat and saw four grey and balding heads huddle together across the table and at least two pairs of eyes occasionally glance in Lynn and Charlie’s direction.

Charlie looked up at Lynn and said, “He’s harmless. He can’t help how he is. Then after a pause he said with a smile, “Boy, you sure know how to make an entrance. I’m going to have to smarten myself up a little if I’m going to be seen around town with a celebrity. Do you cause such a stir everywhere you go?” Because the wink seemed to work the first time, he tried it again, just so Lynn didn’t get the wrong impression.

“You look perfectly fine to me, Charlie Stone. Any woman would be proud to be seen with you,” said Lynn. “And no, the last time someone applauded me was when I graduated from high school. I think it’s very sweet of your friends.” 

“Some of ‘em ain’t so sweet and most of ‘em ain’t my friends,” said Charlie gruffly, and with the sometimes-perfect timing of random actions, their food arrived, normalcy returned putting life back into perspective.

© John Longbottom 2021


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