“Get out of my trash” I heard from behind me. I was doing my usual rounds of looking for glass bottles. I dropped what was in my hand and turned around slowly. It was the first time I had been to that side of town. I didn’t know anybody over there, but I was sure about to meet one.
“Do you know how long it took me to gather those up?” a deep voice asked me. “No sir, it didn’t seem like anyone lived here. I am sorry. I will put them back and be on my way if it is okay.” I said.
“Well it’s not okay, and I don’t think you will be going anywhere. Stealing is against the law and I don’t like thieves.” he said. I just stood there in shock. “I had only wanted a couple of bottles to trade in so I could get a sandwich.” I told him.
It’s not what I was going to do with them but he didn’t need to know that. If it would get me out of his eye site I would have told him anything.
“Well in that case, I can put you to work. If you are willing to work for me for a while you can buy all the sandwiches you can eat. See, I got big hands and I need to wash some pint jars. I can’t really get them all that well. He had showed me his hands. They were big. They could make two of my ten year old hands. They were dirty looking. They were worn around the edges, callused, and bruised. I could see that he was telling the truth.
I stood there a minute like I had to really think about it. My love for comics and Hubba-Bubba could benefit from this venture, so I told him I could do it. He smiled and told me to follow him. He said I could park my bike beside the tree that stood by his small house.
“Yea, it is not much but it is all I need. It is all anybody needs: four walls, a nice floor, sturdy doors and windows, and a roof that don’t leak. Anything else is just luxury.” He told me as he noticed me looking in disbelief at his house. I use to live above that old burnt out garage I once operated, but an electrical fire took that from me. I used what I lived in now for storage then but after the fire I did some trading to get electrical and water put in it. Home is where you lay.” He continued.
As he walked around gathering what he wanted me to wash, he talked and I tried to listen. I was distracted by all the stuff laying around I could use to build other stuff. I was following him so close that he had stopped and I had run into him. “Are you listening to me? What did I just say?” He asked. “You said to only wash what I took apart.” I said.
“Well then are you interested. I could sure use your help and I am sure if your digging in trash for bottles you could use the money.” the guy said.
I stood there and just looked at him as if I had to think it over. I do dishes at home for free so if some guy is going to pay me then, hell yea I am in. “Well, how much you going to pay me?” I asked. “Oh, I don’t know. How about $1.50 a week to start.” he said.
I looked at him kind of confused. Thinking to myself you live in a shack, behind a burnt out brick and stick building, and you’re going to give me $1.50 to wash mason jars.
CHA CHING! “I think that will be fare.” I said. “So what do they call you so I don’t have to call you hey boy?” He asked. I stood there with a puzzled look on my face. Do I give him my real name or should I just make something up and hope I remember what I told him. “Well anyway. My name is Raylan Craft but everyone calls me Pepper.” Raylan said. “My name is Markus Lelan Crosley but my friends call me Le.” I told Pepper.
“So would you have a problem with starting today?” Pepper asked. “Well, I had hoped to have found enough bottles so I could cash them in to get something to eat by now but instead I ended up talking with you.” I said. He kind of tilted his head and said “Well, You got a point. How fast do you think you can ride to the Alco and back,” Pepper asked.
“Why is that” I asked. “If I give you a basket for your bike would you use it?” “Well yea, of course. It would be a lot easier to pedal my bike without that cloth bag over my shoulder.” I told him. “Well let’s go get it on your bike and then you can head to Alco and get us both sandwiches and drinks.” He said.
So we went around to the front of his little house. Pepper opened one of the double hung doors and I got to see inside his house for the first time. It was clean and neat. Not exactly what I had expected but cool none the less. As I stood in the door way Pepper climbed up on a make shift ladder to reach above the door way where a shelf was that the basket was on. “Hold on I almost got it” he said.
With one quick jerk of his big hand, the basket and a few other items fell to the floor. “Well, that was not what I had in mind.” Pepper said. “It is a little rough, but should do the job. You don’t want it looking all sissy do you?” He continued.
“It looks just fine. It is a lot better than what I had; which was nothing. You could not believe how many times this cloth nap sack has made me eat the ground by causing me to wreck.” I informed Pepper.
“Let’s get this on your bike. I am starving. My egg I had for breakfast is long gone.” Pepper told me. “You think you can handle riding all the way over to the Alco and back in a fast manner without getting side tracked?” He asked me once again in disbelief. I smiled and nodded my head.
I straddled the bike, as Pepper wired the basket to my handle bars. He wove the wire in and out of the metal basket then around the actual bar that I hold on to.
“That should hold it, for now any way. When you get back, we can make it a little better. It’s Thursday so Mable should be working. Tell her you’re there doing errands for Pepper. That he wants a Brawn Swagger sandwich with Swiss cheese. Also get me a lime soda. Then get what you want. Here is $2. My stuff will cost eighty-five cents. You can use the rest to get yours and make sure you leave a tip. So go and hurry back.” Pepper told me.
-I got on my bike and headed south from 581 North Church Street towards 845 Tennessee where the Alco was. Everyone went to the Alco. If the Alco didn’t have it you didn’t need it. It was the kind of store where you could order right out of their purchase catalog. It is a pay as you go mom and pop operated place. “Hard times hit hard all over” reads the sign over the front door. They stand by it too.
On many occasions I was a bottle short and they let me go ahead and get a sandwich and a drink. Whoever rang me up would just keep a tab of what I owed. I never let it run a long time, my dad would kill me for spending money I didn’t have.
My stomach was growling and I want to show Pepper that I could handle a simple sandwich run to the Alco. I get off my bike and even put the kick stand down because I didn’t want to dent the basket or just knock it off all together. That would not be a good thing. Making Pepper mad is the last thing I want to ever do. He could always go to the police because I was stealing out of his trash. He has one on me and I need to be as good to him as I need to be to avoid any law enforcement in my life. I run around at all times of the day and I don’t need any trouble from anyone else besides my dad.
Mom acts as if she doesn’t care if I am there or not. Dad is only home on every other Monday from the road and has more on his mind than where I spend my time. That would all change if the police would become part of my life. Dad would more than likely take me along with him. To most boys my age that seems like a dream come true but for me it would definitely be the end of my freedom.
I walk in and the place is crowded. A line has formed around the parameter of the store starting from the front door all the way to the back to the deli portion of the store.
I am not a stranger to this place. Carroll Ann is walking around with a note pad taking orders from those wanting food. She gets to me and says “I hope you have money today”. I shook my head and showed her the two dollar bills Pepper had given me. I can never really talk to Carroll Ann. I get so tongue tied when I stare at her beauty. She is a platinum blond with a knock out body. She wears glasses and a cut off shirt every day.
Well every day that I go in there that is. The shirt is always different but the look never changes. I am standing there watching her lips move. Not hearing that she has asked me for the third time she leans of me and pinches me on the shoulder. “Are you going to order or just stand there in line wasting space and taking up time I don’t have?” She asked for the fourth time.
“Oh I am sorry just trying to remember what Pepper sent me here to get.” I said. “Pepper? How do you know Pepper? Wait, I don’t think I want to know.” she said “Any way what did that cranky old man send you here for?” she asked me.
“Pepper sent me here for lunch. He wants a Brawn Swagger sandwich with Swiss cheese. Also get him a lime soda. I would like a ham sandwich with cheddar and an orange soda.” I told her. “Would you like any chips with either order?” she asked. I said no and then she told me the order was going to be a $1.25. “How long is it going to take before I can head back to Peppers place? I asked her. “About fifteen minutes.” She said.
“What about all these other people in front of me?” I asked. They have all been helped; they are just hanging around like old people do.” She said.
I just stood there in aw looking over all the stuff that lined the shelves. There was stuff I knew what was and there was stuff I had no clue what was. There was stuff hanging from the celling like saws, rakes, shovels, hoes and oil cans of every size.
“Lee.” I heard from across the room. I snapped back into reality when I heard a familiar voice. It was Ms. Mable. She motioned me over to the counter. “Do you have the means to take back a package for Pepper?” she asked me. “Well, I am on my bike. Pepper put a basket on it this morning. I think I might be able to carry a medium size package for no more than the distance I have to travel
“So you think you can handle a five pound package for s block or two back to Peppers place.” she asked. “What is it?” I asked. “You just never mind what it is. To you it’s a five pound rock. I if I give it to you to take to him can you go straight to him with no detours?” she asked.
“Well yes Ms. Mable, I can do that. Is our lunch ready because I am getting really hungry?” She said “Yes they are ready I have them bagged up and ready for you to go. Do you really think you can handle a five pound bag?”
“Yes. I have carried more than that in bottles. I know I can do it. I can show you if you want.” I told her. “No if you know you can do it I will leave it up to Pepper to deal with you if you damage it. Don’t stop and look at it. Go straight to Peppers no side trip, you promise. She asked. “Yes Ms. Mable I will go right there and not look at it once.” I told her.
With that being said Ms. Mable came out to where I was parked. She helped me onto the bike. She held the handle bars while I got the pedals situated so I can go. I sat on the seat as she placed the five pound package in the basket. I put the sandwiches on top of the five pound bag so it wouldn’t crush them. I took off back towards Peppers place.
I left the Alco just as fast as I arrived. Watching out for traffic as I crossed the railroad bridge I headed back towards Peppers. I knew he was just as hungry as I was. I did my best to avoid holes. I turned onto Tankersley Avenue and the first thing I hit was a big old pothole. I hope whatever is in that bag is not breakable. I know for certain that the soda is well shaken.
I made it back to Peppers. and I just rode on by. He had company and I didn’t want to interrupt them. I rode around the block for what seemed like an eternity. I know with every pedal my stomach growled a little louder. Finally I stopped in front of the burnt out shop to rest. I waited. I saw the guy drive away in a sheriff’s car. I took that as my cue to go on back to where Pepper was.
I didn’t even get on my bike. I just pushed. Out of energy, I put my kick stand down. I didn’t want to drop whatever was in the basket. I knew it as important from the way Mable was handling it.
I park my bike next to Peppers shed like home. I bet it didn’t even measure 10×16. It was smaller than my bedroom that was for sure. I guess all the room in the world would make it still four walls and a roof like he said.
I walk back with the sack of food towards where Pepper was last standing. I yell “Pepper I am back”. In these parts it is better to announce yourself so you don’t get mistaken for someone not wanted there.
“Yea, I see your back. Did you get what I sent you for?” he asked. “Yes and then some. Ms. Mable gave me a package she said you were waiting for. It’s heavy. What is it?” I asked. “It is a bag of none of your business for the moment. In time you will know everything. If you want to that is. I just stood there looking at him.
“Well don’t you answer questions when you are asked them?” He asked. “Yes I do I just don’t know how to answer it. What is it that I am supposed to be learning? I asked him.
“Well, let’s eat our lunch and then we can talk about it later.” he said. “Who was that guy you were talking with? I rode around the block three times and then just stopped in front of the store and waited. I got tired of pedaling? I asked with a partial mouth of food.
“He was just an old friend. You can know a man all your life and not really know him at all. He works at the sheriff’s department as a desk jokey and wanted to come pay a visit. He had told me that there was word of someone in town doing some still work.” Pepper said.
“Steal work, like s-t-e-a-l work or like s-t-e-e-l work?” I asked him. He chuckled “NO, God NO; like s-t-i-l-l work. You mean to tell me your folks neither drink a little well water every now and then.” He continued. I just looked at him in a puzzled manner. “You know a little shine to help a cough, or a backache go away?” he asked me.
“You mean moonshine?” I asked him. “Yes I do. Is there any kind other than moonshine?” he laughed. “So is it you that he was talking about or is that someone else doing it?” I asked him.
“Well I sure as hell hope it is not someone else. If it is, I may have to get thumping somebody’s head. This is my town and no one ever better try to take it from me. My family has been cooking the same recipe since way before the Cumberland gap fell to the Yankees.
to be continued….