Author Topic: Granite Falls Gun & Pawn  (Read 820 times)

Offline Queasy Dillo

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Granite Falls Gun & Pawn
« on: June 30, 2020, 06:45:59 PM »
An introduction to a character who will eventually go on to bigger things.  Not strictly a western on its face or its era, but I think the underpinnings are there.  Also, a love letter to one of John Browning's enduring shotgun designs. 

Posted as a standalone piece of what is planned as a collection of loosely-joined stories concerning said character in the two years between striking out on his own and the aforementioned bigger (and more pyrotechnic) adventures.  As most of the readers to this point aren't necessarily gun people, I figured I'd see what the shooting world had to say. 

Probably nothing worse here than you'd see on network television.

Good, bad, rotten fruit...I'll take any feedback you got.


North Texas, 1985

The iodine stung as it touched the cut. Short a twitching of the eyelid the boy showed no sign of the pinch. The cut was not long, maybe an inch, angling down from the forehead towards the left eye. For now it still showed a fresh and angry red, but before summer’s end the parted skin would knit, the scar fade and register only as a brief interruption in the brow. The last souvenir.

“You’re awfully quiet today.” The woman’s voice carried an edge of forced cheer flagrantly at odds with the washroom door hanging crooked on broken hinges and the kitchen trash brimming with shards of crockery.


The boy moved his dark eyes by way of response.

“You have to talk to him sometime,” she went on, selecting a bandage. She dressed the center pad with a dollop of translucent ointment. Carefully – a painter making the final touch – she placed it over the wound, smoothing the edges with her thumbs and standing aside to study the result. Her smile faded around the edges.

“John,” she said. “He didn’t mean anything. You know that.”

The boy had not spoken all morning. He had not wanted to be in the house the evening before, did not want to be there now, and would not have returned had circumstances not forced his hand. The gaze slid across the kitchen to the open washroom and the deep crescent where the knob had punched into drywall.

Somehow, deep in his gut, he had known it was coming. Nobody lived long with a Jerry Barnes and walked away untouched in the end. There would be something…some wrong word, some mistaken gesture, some piece of a puzzle unknown and unseen to all but the big man himself. Nobody got away. Damn sure nobody got away clean. For a little while he let himself believe that the eviction was the worst. That The Jerry would be content to pile on the shame of being kicked out and leave it at that.

Last night proved him wrong.

“All done,” his mother said, the false brightness again in her voice. She closed up the plastic box bearing the band-aids and disinfectants and tweezers, humming as she moved down the short hall to the bathroom.

John slid from the kitchen counter and studied the result in the little square of mirror below the wall clock. At once he hated the bandage. Hated everything it meant and everything hidden beneath.

The cut he could almost wear as a badge of pride. The mark of one who might not win his fights but managed yet to stand the punishment. Instead he wore a little strip of brown plastic like kids got for scraping knees or falling off bikes. Nothing to see here, he thought. Nothing special. Nothing of note.

Never anything of note.

When his mother returned she carried an unmarked manila envelope.  He reached for the envelope and she drew back suddenly.
“John,” she said. “Talk to him. Promise me. He feels awful.”

John took the envelope from protesting fingers. She crossed her arms and regarded him sullenly as he ran the edge of his pocketknife under the flap and counted the contents. One birth certificate. One social security card. The title for the beater Ford pickup parked in the driveway. One photograph, yellowing at the edges, of a man in green fatigues with a slung M16 and a German Shepherd. One high school diploma, Ben McCulloch High School, class of 1985.

“That’s everything,” she said.

The lie hung lamely in the still midday air. John knew differently, knew that his grandparents – his father’s people in West Texas – sent money every quarter. But those letters were always intercepted and kept from him. Probably the money was spent, and if the fact lay like acid in his gut he could resign himself to the loss if it got him free.

“Call him this evening,” she persisted.

John closed the envelope. There it was – all he had worth keeping. Not much to show for eighteen years. That and the pickup and a bag of clothes and a couple of hundred dollars in small bills. He doubted they knew about the other money.

In the meantime she had busied herself at the sink to the clatter of plates and silverware. She turned now, twisting a dirty dishrag.

“We’ll be eating around six,” she said. “I’ll set an extra place.”

John said nothing, watching the damp cotton wind through her fingers. Had she always been so mousy? So small and beaten down? The pictures in the old photo album she kept tucked away in the guest bedroom said suggested not. Now and again, in his younger years, while The Jerry and his mother were out he would sit on the bed where no one ever slept and flip through the heavy pages where once upon a time she smiled and wore short sleeves and had friends outside the house.

Then The Jerry happened and there were no more photographs, and nobody smiled, and friends and visitors were something carefully screened, fewer as the years went by. And now and again he would see the plum-colored shadows on her wrists or the ill-concealed pains that made her movements jerky and awkward as a puppet on its strings.

“Well,” he said. “I got to be going.”

He was halfway down the walk when the screen door clapped behind him. He paid it no mind and let himself through the gate. In the pickup he tucked the envelope behind the visor and twisted the key.

A tap at the window. He reached for the lever and the glass slid down.

What are you doing today?” she asked.

“I got some things to do before Thursday.”

“What’s Thursday?”

“Maybe something, maybe nothing. Don’t know yet.”

“Well, come back when you’re done and we’ll celebrate.” The tarnished hope filtered in her voice again. “We ought to feed you one last time before you go.”

John was silent, picturing how it would go – how it always went. An interrogation with The Jerry looming like a black stormcloud, looking for an excuse he never needed. His mother, brittle with her pasted-on smile, trying to keep a peace long since fled. Himself, fixed on his plate and chewing mechanically while the two of them tried to good cop/bad cop the plans out of him.

“Alright,” he lied.

His mother gave a short sigh of relief. “It won’t be so bad. You’ll see.”

Then she was gone inside, her silhouette moving in the kitchen window. He put the pickup in gear and headed up the street.

A couple of blocks away he eased over to the shoulder beside the park. A handful of kids were screaming, playing cops and robbers or cowboys and indians, tearing in and around the equipment with finger-guns drawn, ducking under the swinging legs of those crossing the monkey bars. A few raced alongside the merry-go-round, trying to fling those clinging to the rails. In the shade of the spreading oaks their mothers sat talking on wooden benches. A couple of the dads oversaw a smoking grill and a folding table piled with hamburger patties. Further back, a gaggle waited at the entrance of the municipal pool.

John watched the festivities for a few minutes, an outsider studying an alien culture. He leaned to study his reflection in the rearview mirror. After a moment’s hesitation he worked his fingernails under the edges of the band-aid and peeled back the plastic, flicking the wadded ball into the passenger floorboard. He had no place here now. Probably he never had.

He wiped the eyebrow greasy with ointment and put the truck in gear, and in a few minutes was out of town, out in the open country. On his own.

About the hour of three he passed the Granite Falls city limit sign. A quarter of a mile on, past the pipe yard and truck stops and gas stations, he cut off the highway into the parking lot of a mom-and-pop restaurant dotted with work trucks and a peeling fiberglass horse beside the door. He lit from the pickup with the uneven movements of a man feeling every one of his eighteen years and stood, trying to work the aches loose.

Inside he placed his order a found a booth near the front. The place had a comforting dimness – old wood, smoothed edges, worn-out tools and dusty burlap feed sacks pinned to the walls. Waylon Jennings sang from an unseen speaker near the counter. Of greater interest was the neighboring lot - the squat, flat-roofed island of beige paint and windows covered faded fluorescent sales pitches:





He shifted in his seat on the uneven fulcrum of his wallet. Before coming in he’d laid the sum of its contents out end to end, hoping somehow to have missed a bill somewhere. But no – no matter how many times he counted he always came up just shy of three hundred. No small scratch. Enough to float him another two months, provided he kept from driving and didn’t eat much. The courthouse paperwork had taken some, the housing arrangements more yet, and by the time the day was out his comfortable reserve was going to be a distant memory.

Of the expenses this last was least critical of the three, and when his food came he sat and forked at brisket and potato salad and wondered for the hundredth time whether he could justify the outlay.

The fresh bruises up his arms and across his chest told him anything he needed to know. So did the nick over his eye and the sharp ache on his left side, irregular but deep, that he feared meant a cracked rib.

He was tired of it – of The Jerry, washout college star, bull in the china shop, and all-around asshole. He was tired of his mother’s soothing words when it all fell apart and her husband commenced to handing out fat lips and bruises for the disrespect shown him, and of her inevitable quailing that that followed any such promises of improvements to come. He was tired of his own stupidity for believing her, of holding any hope that she might do better than talk.
Hell…he was just tired.
The pawn shop smelled of lawnmower oil and old canvas, dry leather and rust. Nearer the entrance battered toolboxes and lineman’s belts jostled with power tool cases and plastic bins brimming with scarred wrenches and screwdrivers. Deeper in it was televisions and VCRs, CB radios and turntables and speakers in battered casings. A parade of bicycles hung in lines from the ceiling. A glass-sided upright case displayed the choicest picks of jewelry.

Behind the counter, a man shaped like a potbellied stove in stained overalls and a wrinkled shirt glanced up from his daytime TV.  A sewn tag over his shirt pocket marked him as Doug.

“Help you find something?”

“Just killing daylight,” John said.

He’d come in knowing what he wanted. As to whether he could fit those wants into his shrinking budget…that was the question. He made a show of circling the outer rings of the shop first. Past the cabinet TVs and recording gear and a wall of stringed instruments. From there to the dull shells of computers and rotary telephones. A discolored American flag hung on the back wall, a Confederate flag in front of that one and a Mexican flag before that, upside down.

And then the glass counters lined with watches and commemorative knives that would never sell. Books of old coins in plastic sleeves. An unsorted ashtray full of biker pins, old army ribbons, and tie tacks and cufflinks.

Then the handguns, laid out in even rows with prices beyond dreaming, even supposing they would sell him one. A few he recognized – a commercial Government Model Colt and a handful of imitations, a couple of Smith & Wesson revolvers, a Browning .25 no bigger than a deck of cards that would hit like a spitball with cartridges that cost more than the gun. On the bottom, a German P-38 with a second tag boasting its various qualities – ALL MATCHING – NAZI MARKED – WITH HOLSTER – and a wooden case not much bigger than a paperback holding a conversion barrel for the Colts a few rows up.

He didn’t linger, moving down the glass countertop paved in soft mats and stickers. Posters lined the wall above; a waterstained ad for Remington autoloading rifles with a hunter meeting an angry grizzly on a narrow mountain ledge somewhere out west; another, less memorable, for Winchester; a theatrical poster for an Italian western; a brunette of the Jane Russell mold in Vegas eveningwear reclining on a divan with a tiny pistol, advertising the American Derringer Corporation of Waco, Texas.

Short of this last not much caught his interest and he moved on to the racks of used long guns. He knew he wanted a shotgun of some kind, likely a pump or an auto, though the particulars were not concrete. A couple of times he’d shot with his grandfather and so looked for the familiar. The store offered a pair of Browning Auto-5s, both out of his range, and its American cousin, the Remington Model 11, for which he would have settled were the forestock not cracked in three places and butt poorly shortened with a hacksaw. Next to those a Model 12 Winchester trap-grade Black Diamond astronomically beyond his means.

On the other side were a gaggle of Mossbergs that fell in reach but whose aluminum receivers and plastic components soured him. A trio of Remington 870s too long to suit his purposes, and beside those an ancient double gun that with hopelessly loose barrels. There was a Winchester 1300, priced decently, that he might have jumped had he not spent too many evenings on his grandfather’s porch listening to the travesty that was post-1964 Winchester of any stripe. At the end, an uninspiring assortment of single-shot breakovers and no-name bolt guns with internals sprung like mechanical clocks, all chambered too small for his liking.

He turned from the gun racks and considered the neighboring shelves. Mismatched and partial boxes of ammunition, cloth bandoliers filled with enblocs and stripper clips, magazines for .22 autoloaders, cleaning kits, gun cases, and every kind of accessory and random junk potentially of use to the modern sportsman. Next to those, piles of worn-out army surplus gear and camping equipment. He crouched to inspect a set of shelter halves and wondered how long he might make it living in a canvas pup tent.

John rose, dusting his knees. So this had been a bust. At least he’d gotten some decent grub out of the trip. As for finding a big enough stick to hold off The Jerry, he supposed that’d have to wait.

He drifted around the used racks and was nearing the checkout when a shape behind the counter caught his eye. Half a dozen more used guns, less tags and prices.

“What’s the story on that one?” he asked.

“Eh?" The counter man hitched off his stool. He came over with an uneven gait, reloading from a snuff can on the way. He pushed the pinch down and settled on the stool behind the register.

“On the end there.” John pointed.

“That ‘un?” Doug swiveled on the stool and scooped it from its resting place. “Winchester ‘97. Just came in today. Ain’t made it to the floor yet.”

He snapped the forend back, narrowly missing the meat of his hand with a bolt that darted from the back of the receiver like a striking copperhead. “I looked this up earlier…’35 or ’36 production, if I remember. She’s been rebuilt some. Used to be a cop gun, I think.”

“What’s the going rate?” John asked.

“Oh, probably a buck-ten, give or take. These old thumb-busters are solid guns, they just got too many parts by half. All the new stuff on the market, there ain’t much demand. Why? You interested?”

“You mind if I take a look?”

“Got an ID?”

John dropped his driver’s license on the glass and took the gun. Turning, he threw it to a shoulder still black and purple under his shirt. A silver bead winked from the end of eighteen inches of softly blued barrel. When he moved it moved with him, smooth and easy as silk, and somehow he knew he had to have this one and that no other would suffice.

He racked it and the bolt snapped back to trace two thin red lines across the meat between thumb and forefinger.

“Watch your thumb,” Doug said. “She’ll bite.”

John only grinned and dismounted the gun. The bluing didn’t quite match in places and the forearm and stock rode the dings and dents of a fifty working years. On the flat of the pistol grip was stenciled the number ‘19’ in white paint.

John held the Winchester under the light, wondering. Picturing a cowboy in the border country, sheltering behind his downed horse while bandits from across the river whooped and circled and fired their carbines in the air. Or a lawman leaning over the hood of his Model A, fixated on a bank entrance with Dillinger and his associates barricaded inside. Of a hot, still night in a darkened city in the year of his birth, the unrest high and the tempers growing.

Maybe she’d done some good in her day. Maybe, with a little luck, she had some left.

In the gathering dusk he returned to Atheta. He turned at the square, moving slow with the five o’clock traffic until he cleared town, heading north. Fifteen minutes on he eased the truck onto an unpaved road and got out to open the gate. He shut it behind him and in less than a mile turned again at a dented mailbox.

The old singlewide had seen better days. Discoloration crawled down the corrugated sides. Gaps showed in the silvered plywood skirting. A rusted barbecue pit guarded the foot of rickety wooden stairs, more yard trash piled in a crude carport thrown up against the far end. How many months since the lawn had seen a mower he couldn’t guess. For a few minutes he sat, studying the trailer through the windshield. Not much, he allowed. But the door would lock and the roof didn’t leak, and more important, the name on the lease was his alone.

He got out, dragging the padded case from the behind the seat.

Come nightfall he sat by the window in the cleanest of the bedrooms. A ticking box fan in the window pushed heavy air through the room where he’d set up the total of his moveable property– a duffel of clothes, a set of keys and a wallet much lighter since morning, two boxes of double-ought buckshot, a sheaf of safety papers and club flyers stapled to his receipt, and propped between the mattress and a makeshift milk crate nightstand, one Winchester shotgun.

He stubbed out his last cigarette of the night and drew the yellowed blinds. Of going back there was no question. Never had been. Wouldn’t go voluntarily, damn sure wouldn’t be taken. John unrolled his sleeping bag on the narrow mattress and shut off the bedside light. In the fresh darkness he tested the cut on his brow. 

Come Thursday he’d be making some money. Hard work, the boss said, but regular pay.  Something to put back until he could find something else.  Open the range a piece at a time until all of this lay comfortably behind him. 

He’d have to keep his head down, especially at first.  But it was a big country.  Ought to be enough breathing room for one man to avoid another.  And if not… in the idling darkness he ran a fingertip along the contours of the stock, half-dozing, wondering at six pounds of walnut and blued steel insurance. 

He had plan for that, too.   
"Get it together?  Lady, last time my people got it together we needed most of Robert Lee's backyard to bury the evidence."

Offline medic15al

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Re: Granite Falls Gun & Pawn
« Reply #1 on: June 30, 2020, 10:28:47 PM »
Now this is excellent beginning of a read!
Pacem in corde meo, Mors de guns


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