I was seven. We lived in a chinzy motel south of Reno. Mom sewed curtains like she always did wherever we moved. These ones had suns on a brown background.
There were lots of gunshots out there at night. “Is that bad guys?” I whispered.
“Don’t you worry about it. I’ve got my owns guns right here.” My father had a .22, a Colt .45 and a shotgun of some type. He told us just point that shotgun and pull the trigger if a bad guy tried to break in.
We lived in a trailer one place where bad guys robbed a gas station and shop. The old owner and his wife always gave me and my brother candy. “Just one piece.” We’d take forever choosing which one. I usually got a Tootsie Roll. Bob liked changing each time. We only lived there two months. Then Dad had to get movin’. The robbers shot both dead. I didn’t ask why. They were no good sunuvabitch bad guys.
We stopped at Grandma’s in Wyoming on the way to somewhere else. I think Montana. We moved so much I can’t remember every single stop.
Uncle Earl came over for dinner. He was lean and tall. Always wore a white cowboy hat. He let me sit on his Appaloose horse, China Boy. Nearly 20 hands high. His mother was cream with white spots. The sire was a Belgium draft horse. Earl said, “That’s your horse now, Dixie.”
He wrote me a letter care of Grandma in Georgia a year later. Had to sell the horse. “Sorry. Got $6,000 from some guy in Kentucky. Saved the ranch.”
I cried under Grandma’s bed for an hour. Then got ahold of myself.
Oh yeah. Back to Wyoming that one time. We were all sitting at the dinner table. It was venison. Some high school buddy of Mom’s got a deer. I wouldn’t eat it. Just mashed potatoes and corn for me. For once, my mother didn’t put meat on my plate.
Red haired Aunt Kate said, “Well, kids. Your Uncle Earl’s a big hero now.”
“What’d he do?” I already thought my uncle was a hero. He was a real cowboy and the Sheriff of that whole county. He rode his horse through town every day from morning ‘til night.
Earl put his lips together hard. “That story don’t need tellin’ over n’ over again.”
“Saw it in the papers all over. Driving from here to there. Earl’s picture with that little girl.” Mom said. “What in the world?”
“What little girl?”
“You don’t need to know about that. Just a damn dumb kid.”
“How many’d he kill?” Dad’s eyes were sharp black.
“Eleven all tolled. Girl’s whole family. It was in the papers.” Said Grandma.
“Your uncle shot that boy right in the ear! And oh my did that killer cry.” Aunt Kate leaned back, reached for her pack of menthols with those red shiny fingertips.
I never knew killers would cry. I heard they had ice water in their veins.
“He was a god-damned yellow coward. That’s all I want to say on the subject.” Earl stood up, slapped his rough, tanned hands on the lace table cover. Went out on the porch and smoked a Marlboro.
I followed him out. Sat on the chaise lounge and swung. Earl sighed hard. Tossed the butt down and crushed it with his steel toed cowboy boot.
A kid from across the street came running over. “Wanta play? There’s lightning bugs!”
“OK. Let me get my brother and sister.”
We got about fifteen but let them go because Dad said they’d die in that jar.
“Your uncle caught a killer.” The neighbor kid had a lot of freckles.
“I know it.”
“Wellp. Gotta go. See ya!”
He didn’t even look both ways before crossing the street. Maybe he’d grow up to be a rule-breakin’ bad guy. You never know.