“Hey, FJ!” Devadander stepped back from the reconditioned-but-battered old monster truck, waving his wrench at it. “She’s ready. Let’s take her out.”
The pair climbed in, the younger, larger brother feeling the worn leather seats out for size. The engine roared to life, and Devadander grinned as he gunned it a few times before grinding it into first.
“Hooooweeee!! Come on, Mary Lou, sing to me!”
Fats Johnson held on to the seat, the dashboard, the roof of the cab, looking at his older brother sideways. It didn’t take much to keep his simple mind occupied. Maybe this would be a good time to get things moving with that new fella at the Lowell place.
“I gotta say, Dander,” he said. “She sure runs smooth. Say, point her towards the ditch. We’ll go take a peek at the still.”
“Ab-so-lutely, FJ! To the party cave!” said Devadander, shifting the truck into second and flooring the gas. Johnson grimaced, gripping the seat.
The Griner Brothers. They’re at the heart of the grimey rural community of Sucker Creek. If you want a dirty job doing, at a low price, you call the Griners. Just don’t mention the rumours about them and little Luanne Lowell. It’s probably best not to talk about that soybean field at all.
“This soybean field is making me feel romantic. And not in a brotherly way.” – Devadander Griner
He could remember every second. This pretty young thing, so trusting. They took her into the field . . . it wasn’t long before she was so drunk she couldn’t stand. Devadander thought about her the whole time she was away. What him and FJ did to her stayed with him. And now people were saying she went to Mexico to have a baby. That ain’t right for a decent person like her.
Luanne. She was only fifteen that night. The truth is she wanted to get away from Daddy for a few hours after another evening of reciting passages from the Family Bible. And the leather belt, next to his hand the whole time. In case she missed a word, or even stuttered.
The Griners were dangerous, exciting. And only a couple of years older than her. So it was strange that they knew so much. Like how to make moonshine. She remembered the reflection of the moon in the ripples of the liquid as she held the battered tin can to her lips again. Then . . . no. Just that ball of dread in her stomach.
It went from bad to worse for Luanne. Derek Lowell’s anger was tempered by only two things: the good book, and his pious niece, Bambi. She counselled him against his instinct for swift retribution, and she used her contacts at the mission in Mexico to give the girl sanctuary. For a time.
A baby? Oh no, dear, you’re quite mistaken. She said it more times than she could remember. Bambi had heard the rumours, and she knew not to go against Derek’s wishes, so she kept quiet. Denied everything. The girl was a nun now. There was never a baby, don’t be ridiculous. Those missionaries in Mexico had been blessed with an unexpected child, that’s all. They were good people, and they’d do right by that child. The baby wasn’t Luanne’s, and she had the papers to prove it.
But Bambi’s love of family left her with a hole to fill. She wanted more. Maybe a man of her own, and not some grubby fumble in a tractor with Pedro. Or was it Pablo? Well, this new guy was interesting. ‘Joe’. Enigmatic, edgy, with a glint (Derek called it a twitch, but she called it a glint) in his eye and a warm (Derek said it was sweaty) hand to lay on top of her own when she said grace at meal times. Perhaps he could help her . . . cleanse her of her past transgressions.
“You’ve been doing so many jobs for me, I feel like I should do some for you.” – Bambi Lowell
‘Joe’. It was as good a name as any, and it would do until he’d made enough from selling the Lowell’s machinery to that gorilla-looking hillbilly. What was it? Griner. Jesus, what a monster. He’d seen people – Terry the Bastard, mainly – do some bad things back in Chicago, but that Griner yeti had ‘the look’. Joe shivered as he sucked on the bottle of bourbon. Wait – a tap at the door? That thin, high voice. It was Bambi. He sighed and put the bottle back in the bedside cabinet.
“Turns out Cotton Eye Joe was a back door man!” – Fats Johnson Griner.
His older brother had the looks, sure, and he knew how to get a machine running, but FJ considered himself a breed apart. He’d picked up enough from his brother to convert this woodchipper, for starters. It was fitted with an agricultural lawnmower blade – galvanised steel – and a reconditioned engine ripped out of a pickup. It certainly did the job. And he should know: he’d tested it enough times. Oh, yes. She ran smooth, all right. And when the time came, he’d test her some more. There was money to be made in Sucker Creek, and he wasn’t in a sharing frame-of-mind.
“I have hobbies. Everyone has hobbies.” – Fats Johnson Griner