Joe and the Junkyard Dog

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If you’ve a mind, stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story about a lonely man and a vicious dog.

It’s the kind of story that fits this high desert community with its eccentric old-timers and desert rats who live on the outskirts of town; only visiting long enough to get supplies before going back to their self-made shacks near the Panamint Mountain Range. Or, in an area known as Wonder Valley.

Unless you’re a Marine (it’s home to the biggest Marine base in the country), you probably haven’t heard of the city of 29 Palms, California. It has a small civilian population consisting of military families. Then there’s the old families with histories going back a hundred years, when relatives moved there after WWI to take advantage of the high desert’s clean dry air to treat their lungs damaged by mustard gas in Europe.

Most of the businesses in town have connections to those old families. The family that owned the county’s only junkyard, the Mercer’s, had one of the oldest active businesses in the city. Family members belonged to organizations like the local Masons, and the Rotary Club. They were considered important members of the tight-knit little community.

Mercer Wrecking sponsored local events like “Pioneer Days,” and rodeos. They were a normal family with one exception. Percy Mercer who ran the business, had a mean son named Zack, who was a troublemaker that liked to bully people, and who taunted the family dog, a German Shepard named Max, mercilessly for years.

By anyone’s book, Zack was an asshole. When the families old dog died and they got a new puppy, Max, Zack went out of his way to make the dog miserable. Max had the run of the junkyard and was considered extra insurance against thieves. But after years of sustained cruelty heaped on him, Max became vicious and no one could approach him.

He was chained up during the day next to a wrecked hulk that was once a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. It was gutted and the rusted frame provided little shade for Max when it was in the 100s – which was often in 29 Palms. With no kind human contact, Max lived to bite someone stupid enough to try jumping the gate at night when he was free to roam the junkyard’s perimeter.

The junkyard was a mile east of downtown 29 Palms. It sat like a blight in the middle of the desert with floodlights at night that attracted insects in massive numbers. Roadrunners ran by the perimeter, often crossing Highway 62 and getting run over by half asleep Marines at night, heading back to the base from a weekend pass. Coyotes avoided the junkyard. They were well aware of Max.

If you were to travel further east of the junkyard, on Highway 62, you’d eventually come upon Wonder Valley, home to hermits and desert rats. There was one small community building that served as an informal post office, firehouse, and meeting place. The residents paid for their crude services by holding constant fundraisers. Bar-b-ques and lots of cold beer held the odd community together.

One of the more eccentric residents was Joe Knudsen, a retired US Navy captain who served in Vietnam’s “Brown Water Forces” on the Mekong for two tours. He was wounded twice on his second tour. The most serious wound was a piece of shrapnel embedded in his forehead. Somehow he survived delicate brain surgery and was honorably discharged with a 100 per cent disability rating. It was 1975, and he ran away from human contact as soon as he got back to California. A friend told him about the high desert and its sparse population. It served his purpose. He bought a five-acre parcel and built a shack to live in.

The thing about Joe was he had PTSD, and his brain injury slowed down his reflexes and ability to think clearly. Staying focused became increasingly difficult since he sustained his injuries over 50 years ago. Sometime he would become confused and would wander outside his shack, rambling around the creosote bushes and dry rivers on his land. More than one local resident found him dehydrated and hungry in the middle of nowhere, and took him back to his shack. There were a few old veterans that tried to keep an eye on Joe, but he lived more than a mile from his nearest neighbor. It wasn’t easy. He was as lean as a rail and could walk for miles with little effect other than sweating. At 67-years old, Joe was in remarkable physical shape.

No one ever thought of calling the county, or anyone else, to take him away for his own safety. It was against the code of the desert. Live free. Die free. Not in some nursing home where a man couldn’t see the fantastic sunsets and sunrises the open desert offered daily.

Late one afternoon, Joe had a flashback and wandered out into the desert like a man in a trance. In his mind he was on a recon mission looking for a VC encampment. His feet carried him into the night and he walked along under the full moon searching for an invisible enemy.

When he saw four floodlights bathing a fenced perimeter he crouched down and inched forward. He heard a man drunkenly cursing something as he low-crawled on the desert floor, unmindful of the rough underbrush.

“Damn dog! I’m going to kill you!” someone shouted.

Joe stopped crawling for a moment. He was confused. His consciousness was torn between an alternate reality, and reality. To him, the angry shouts were in Vietnamese. He came to the chain link fence and easily scaled it, landing lightly on his feet inside.

Cautiously he trotted over to a row of piled up old heaps to get a better look. He listened closely, and heard the man’s angry voice again.

“Tried to bite me you son of a bitch!” Zack Mercer screamed. Joe saw him stumble between a row of piled up cars across from him. Zack had a gun in his hand, and a bottle of booze in the other. His arm and leg were bleeding. When someone ran out of the office to confront Zack he shot them! It was one of his cousins that was spending the night at his house.

Max sprang from the shadows and went after Zack who fired his remaining bullets at the charging dog! One of the bullets hit Max’s shoulder and he flipped over howling in pain. Zack was walking up to the wounded dog while clumsily trying to reload his revolver. Something took over Joe who found a rusted tie-rod on the ground and picked it up. He  ran up on Zack from behind and swung the rusted piece of metal at his head. There was a sickening thud and Zack sank to the ground…dead.

Joe moved past him and over to the wounded Max, who was panting in pain and laying on his side. He picked the big dog up like a baby, or wounded comrade, and carried him out of the yard and into the rapidly cooling desert towards his home.

Afterwards, no one in Wonder Valley asked Joe about where he got his new dog, a mild-mannered German Shepard he called “Buddy.” To be sure, Joe wasn’t entirely sure how he found Buddy, but it sure was a boost for one lonely old desert rat.

As It Stands, in a world of blacks and whites, there are gray areas we don’t fully understand and are left to marvel at.

To Awaken A Giant

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For over a year, the cult followers of Tand came from all corners of the planet to the rolling plains in the Algarve region of Portugal. They gathered there to witness “The Rising.” 

While they waited, they lived in crude outdoor camps in the nearby mountains. Some took up residence along the region’s coastline, living in limestone caves. Scattered about like the lost souls they were, the cult members trekked to a place in the open plain everyday, hoping to witness the return of the giant god Tand.

According to the legends, when the giant hand of Tand breaks through the planet’s crust a new age will dawn. The old religions will be doomed. Only those ready to serve Tand without question will be allowed to live in the new world order. Peace, through terror, will reign when the god giant once again walks the surface and establishes a new dynasty to rule over mankind.

In eons past the giant was defeated by the upcoming new religions in the world, and made to eternally sleep beneath the earth’s surface. The giant has slumbered beneath the dirt in Portugal’s plains for untold ages. If not for his loyal remaining supporters, his influence would not have passed along through the generations…each one more eager than the next to be the blessed ones to witness his return.

On June 10, 2031, cult followers from all over the world were spread around the plains. Some gathered into groups that chanted around-the-clock. Today was going to be the big day.

Not too far away.

Living quietly on the Alentejo plains, west of Algarve region, was a hermit. People of the region talked about the hermit in hushed tones. Some claimed he was immortal. Others said he was wizard. Still others thought he was a vampire. No one intentionally sought out the hermit in his crude thatched hut near a cluster of olive trees.

In fact, the hermit, Aloisio Rapoza, (a member of the religion that defeated the god giant) was more a sentinel than anything else; waiting to meet his destiny with icy calm. He existed as a final safeguard, a present to humanity should the giant rise from his coma in another age.

The powerful magic from his time was consolidated into Aloisio, who stayed in contact with the old gods using dimensional travel. He read ancient tomes with long-forgotten spells and stories, as he waiting for the predicted Rising.

Among the acolytes following the Tand cult, was a sorcerer named Zamos. It was he who announced the date of the giant gods coming. Now, he moved around the plains and outlying areas telling the devoted ones the good news, and to be ready.

On that fateful day Aloisio was contacted by the ancient ones who summoned him to their domain.

“Aloisio, your time has come. A necromancer named Zamos has breached the magic that makes the giant sleep,” one of the elders said with regret in his voice.

“I’m ready! What shall I do first?

“Kill Zamos. Then help us fight the giant, whose coming can’t be avoided.”

“Is it true that Zamos has the sacred Necronomicon?” Aloisio asked.

 “It is of no concern to you, our champion. Your power far exceeds the spells Zamos will summon up from that grimoire. Our ancestors made a pact with humans, back when they lived in caves, to protect them in return for their worship. The unspeakable has happened and now mankind’s fate rest on your shoulders Aloisio. Our honor is also at stake. Remember what you learned over centuries of reading. Power flows through your every cell. Go now…and use it!

When Aloisio opened his eyes he was back in his cottage sitting in a wooden chair. A candle flickered uncertainly on the small table in front of him. It was dark out and a full moon bathed the plains in a soft light. He took his staff and singing sword, Jevrik, and left the cottage. Following his instincts, he walked towards the east, towards a small mountain range in the dim distance.

He smelled them before they attacked. He drew Jevrik from its leather scabbard and was ready when four crazed cult followers of Tand attacked! They carried tree limbs for clubs, and surrounded him. Aloisio calmly accessed his opponents. No wizards. Just followers too stupid to know better than to attack him. Their screams, as he slit throats, and sliced off limbs, mingled with the sword’s savage song of death. It was over in moments. He knew this crude attack was only a prelude to what could be expected ahead. As he held Jervik aloft, a bolt of lightning shattered the silence, caroming off his sword, and searing the earth nearby.

The ground below him began to rumble.

“I’m coming for you Zamos!” he roared to the heavens.

The two adversaries met on the top of the small mountain range overlooking the part of the plain where Tand was expected to appear. Zamos, in his business suit, hat, and cloak, looked like a wealthy businessman. Aloisio wore a plain gray smock with a dark blue cape made from some rough material. The contrast was striking.

Zamos pointed a cane at Aloisio and swore a dark oath. At the same moment, Aloisio waved his walking stick and an invisible shield stopped a blue light heading for him. He locked eyes with Zamos and reached into his mind and soul. Then he twisted them, leaving a drooling idiot who stared at him blankly. Following his instructions, he cut off Zamos’ head.

The earth moved so violently the mountain he was on started to break up. He levitated and looked down on the plain and saw a crack appear! It was the god giant. He flew down and stood next to the opening gap in the earth. The hand of Tand thrust through the crust amidst a loud cracking sound that reverberated across the plains, thrilling the legions of waiting would-be servants.

Aloisio stood his ground and spoke ancient curses. Each one building upon the next, according to the books of magic he’d consumed all those years, and with the elders help by channeling their power through him.

The shaking stopped. The giant hand was frozen into stone. Only five fingers showed above the surface. The moon disappeared, and suddenly a rain storm broke out. It didn’t stop raining for days until all of Tand’s followers drown, or left the area. As for Aloisio, he went back to his cottage and took a well-deserved nap.

As It Stands, fantasies are among my favorite stories.

A Hung Jury at Brimstone

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Badlands Billy stoically waited to be hung.

He was wanted for stealing souls in Brimstone, and was captured in a saloon there by two zombie bounty hunters. Not without a fight however.

One of the zombies lost his hand when Badlands Billy hacked it off with his hatchet during the melee. Saloon patrons tried to stay out of the fracas, but there were still some injuries from errant bullets buzzing around like mad bees in the increasingly smoky saloon.

When it was over, the two zombies had Billy hogtied and drug him to the sheriff’s office where he was thrown into jail. The Sheriff, a second-level demon, paid the zombies their bounty then unceremoniously kicked them out of his office.

“Next time take a bath you smelly bastards!” Sheriff Bodi shouted, “You’ve stunk up my jail again!”

He turned to Billy and looked him over critically.

“You don’t look stupid,” he mused out loud. “But anyone who thinks he can get over on the Master has to be an idiot,” he firmly declared.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it lawman.”

“I have. But the difference between you and me is, I’m smart enough not to. That really pisses Lucifer off, you know.”

“Why don’t you let me go Sheriff? You know my gang is going to show up soon and there will be hell to pay.

“Another level, here or there, doesn’t particularly bother me Billy.

A day later, while the sheriff waited for the judge from Tombstone to arrive, Billy’s gang rode into Brimstone on black horses. They trotted up to the jail house and got off their silent steeds without exchanging words. All five of them were pulling out their pistols when the towns inhabitants opened fire! They were expected.

Bullets rained down from porches. Every window and door had a shooter busily firing at the gang. Like Billy, they were all level one demons and were dropping like fetid flies. When the firing stopped they lay scattered on the dusty street in front of the jailhouse. Their riddled bodies seeped blood that trickled down into the dirt in little pools.

Level one ghouls bid on the bodies afterwards. Their flesh sold for far more than beef. It was one of many reasons why Brimstone didn’t have a coroner. When Billy learned of his gang’s fate he howled like a wolf all night.

“I guess that’s it for you wise guy,” the Sheriff later mocked him. “I expect the judge tomorrow so you better get ready to be served up on someone’s plate when the death penalty is handed down.”

“What? No jury, or trial? I thought even level one demons had some rights.”

“There’ll be a jury, and you’ll get your trial. But at the end of the day, the devil always wins.”

The trial was held at the saloon. The judge arrived with two officers of the county court who immediately set up rows of chairs and constructed a crude platform where the judge would sit on an old stuffed chair from one of the upstairs whores room.

When the sheriff escorted Billy into the saloon cheers broke out. Apparently Billy did have some supporters in the crowd. The jury consisted of level one demons that weren’t too drunk to sit upright for an hour. Billy’s peers.

The judge slammed his gavel on a little desk in front of him and called for silence. He looked down at Billy with undisguised disgust. Even a stupid soul-stealer like Billy knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“You stand accused of stealing souls from humans who are the Master’s playthings. By poaching on Lord Satan’s subjects you have crossed the line of no return. Your fate now lies with this jury,” the judge said indicating a group of 12 demons sitting unsteadily in two rows of rickety chairs. “How do you plead?

“I’m as innocent as a new-born babe, your honor.”

Rolling his eyes in scorn, the judge called on the first witness. A parade of previously paid witnesses spent the next hour testifying against Billy. The jury bravely tried to stay awake during their testimonies, but occasionally one of them would slip off in his chair, only to waken startled and blurry-eyed before regaining his seat.

“It’s time for the defense to state their case,” the judge declared.

Billy’s lawyer slowly stood up. His rumbled jacket had vomit stains on the front. Blood-shot eyes searched the room before settling on Billy. “You my client?” he asked Billy after letting out a long belch.

“Yeah,” Billy admitted in resignation.

The lawyer, Travis Goldblot, turned to the judge and bowed. “If it pleases the court my client begs for mercy and a lower level of hell. He didn’t mean to do it.” 

The judge dismissed him with a wave of his long skeletal fingers, and turned to the jury. “All right you lazy bastards! You go over to that room behind the bar and make a decision on what we should do with this piece of scum.”

The decision only took ten minutes.

When the jury assembled before the judge, ten of them looked pale with fright. The eleventh jury member appeared to be unconcerned. He was casually chewing on a wad of tobacco and talking with the twelfth juror when the judge asked for their decision.

The forlorn speaker for the jury stood up and mumbled a reply.

“Speak up damn you!” the judge groused.

“We have a hung jury, your lordship,” he admitted.

The saloon broke out in roars of laughter! This never happened before. The accused in any trial was always declared guilty. That was part of being damned. The situation was so unique that the judge sat there in shock during the chaos.

One of Billy’s supporters in the crowd shouted, “Free drinks on me!” causing a stampede to the bar. The judge and the two county officers seemed to shrink in stature as they slithered past the revelers and out the batwing doors.

As It Stands, even the devil’s minions get out of line sometimes.

Taffyman, The Terror of Trenton

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Once, Trenton New Jersey’s claim to fame was that it was (briefly) the Capital of the United States. Since the Taffyman first appeared in 2024, that positive moment in history has been overshadowed by one of terror stalking the city.

It was two teenage boys that first saw the Taffyman in downtown Trenton, near the Mill Hill neighborhood where they lived. The boys were riding their bicycles home from football practice and it was getting dark when they saw a tall thin figure down the road beneath a street lamp.

It was dancing in a little circle while laughing happily. They slowed down, until they stopped about a block away. The man, they could make out his yellowish skin stretched across his round face now, stopped his dancing and looked at them.

For days after the incident all the boys could talk about was his eyes. There were no pupils. They looked like the soulless eyes of a shark.

As they watched he smiled and reached out one arm that kept coming towards them! It reached an exaggerated length when both boys stopped being mesmerized by the impossibility. They turned their bicycles around and pedaling away with all of their strength.

People laughed at the boys when they first told their story. Some wits even called the boys boogeyman, the Taffyman. Ditties like “The Taffyman can..” became popluar at their school.

A week later a drunk from Louie’s Bar bumped into the Taffyman. It was 2 a.m. Closing time. The drunk, Jerry Burkhart, wasn’t in a good mood because the bartender kicked his ass out. He took a swing at the tall thin man in front of him who simply moved his head back…without taking a step. His suddenly long neck wobbled for a moment then returned to its normal size and place.

Even drunk, Jerry knew something wasn’t right. The man’s arms grew like snakes and struck out, engulfing Jerry’s body! They wrapped around his torso and squeezed like twin Anacondas! Jerry passed out from lack of air. When he woke up on the sidewalk his ribs hurt. He still had his wallet, so whatever he ran into wasn’t interested in robbing him. When Jerry told his story he was confronted with skepticism. His reputation preceded him.

Thus far the early encounters with the Taffyman were relatively harmless. But one day a hunter (who fired before properly identifying his target) saw him in the forest dancing wildly and fired two quick shots at him! One bullet hit him below his right eye and he shrieked like a banshee! He ran away before the hunter could fire at him again. The hunter, convinced he’d hit his target tried to track him down, but had no success. He still wasn’t sure what he shot at, and idly hoped it wasn’t a man as he drove back to Trenton.

That night, unbeknownst to the hunter, Taffyman followed him home – loping in the growing darkness behind the hunter’s pickup truck. Taffyman could see the hunter and his wife through the front window sitting in reclining chairs. They finally turned off the lights and went to the bedroom. It was time.

Taffyman climbed up to the roof and went over to the chimney. He effortlessly slid down it and reformed in the dark living room. There was a puckered hole beneath his eye where the bullet passed through him with no effect other than a localized pain. It was enough to anger him. He moved confidently in the dark until he found the right room. They were both in bed. He went to the hunter’s side and put his rubbery hand over his mouth. His eyes opened in terror. He picked him up like a baby and carried him into the living room.

With one extra-large hand engulfing the hunter’s face, he couldn’t scream when he pulled his right arm out of the socket! Then the left. After that he twisted his legs so hard the kneecaps shattered as he wrenched them out of their sockets. He was busy twisting the mans head around when his wife walked in and screamed! There was a snapping sound as he let go of the man’s head. He got up and left through the front door without looking back.

The wife’s story made the murder go national as reporters from all over the east coast sought interviews with her. The authorities didn’t know what to think about her story. The coroner was perplexed by a few things as he examined the body during the autopsy. Rumors grew like mushrooms in bars, as people debated if the killer would reappear somewhere else.

After that, every unexplained murder was attributed to the Taffyman. It was during this period that old-timers say he no longer was seen dancing or laughing. His attacks became more frequent and the bodies accumulated over the years. Baffled authorities never gave up trying to catch him, but they were helpless to predict when he’d strike next.

They knew nothing about the killer. The newspapers and media picked up the derisive nickname Taffyman, after hearing about how the two teenage boys were ridiculed by community members after the first sighting. The name stuck.

The Taffyman’s decision to stay in Trenton was a curse the old city didn’t deserve. But, that changed one day after a casual encounter.

After years of revenge he was growing weary. Thoughts of moving on became more frequent. His anger was gone.

He was walking through a community park early one morning when he saw a young girl bumping into things. She looked to be about 12-years old, and was pointing her arms out in front of her. He watched her barely avoid a trash can and turn towards a pond where several ducks were calmly floating. She was heading in that direction and was within two steps of the water, when he shot his arm out and grabbed her by the elbow. She was startled by the touch and cried out, “Help me. I’m blind and lost!

Something turned over in his heart as he said, “I’ll take you home.”

No one seemed to notice the tall thin man with the little girl walking along, holding hands. She gave him her address, and told him her name was Bonnie. He was familiar with most of Trenton and didn’t have trouble narrowing down her neighborhood.

“What color is your house?” he asked.

“Brown, and white.”

“How do you know?

“My parents told me in case of an emergency. I wish I knew what colors looked like,” she added wistfully.

He looked down the block and saw a house fitting her description. As he walked her over to the house, he asked how she came to be so far from her home?

“I went for a walk, but must have accidentally turned on the wrong street. I have a regular route that I take. When I took too many steps, I realized something was wrong. I panicked. But thanks to you sir, I’m home,” she said while opening a little white gate leading to the front door of a brown-and-white house.

“Would you like to meet my parents,” she asked.

The smile that crept onto his round face felt good. “No, but thank you for asking. I have to go.”

“Can I ask you, what’s your name?”

He grinned playfully. “Taffyman. My name is Taffyman,” he replied, and went into a little dance.

As It Stands, this tale of revenge, and redemption, is a theme that goes back to ancient times.

A Hitchhiker on Death Valley’s Scenic Byway

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Hardin was driving east along SR 190, also known as the Death Valley Scenic Byway, when he spotted a man in a wheelchair.

The man held up his thin arm briefly, wearily cocked his thumb like he didn’t expect anyone to stop, then dropped it back to the wheel. With both hands he spun the wheels forward at a pace a tortoise might have overtaken on a good day.

It was the peak of the day, and a brain-frying 129 degrees. Heat waves shimmered off the highway like faraway lakes. Hardin had been driving in the relentless desert for hours without seeing man or animal. He was looking for his turnoff at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, near the settlement of Furnace Creek. He had important business to take care of there.

Furnace creek consists of a visitor center, museum, and headquarters for the Death Valley National Park Service. The tiny village, with less than 20 inhabitants lived in a nearby campground. Most who lived there made a living working at the Park’s major tourist facilities, the Inn at Death Valley and the Ranch at Death Valley. There were also few retired senior citizens living in the campground.

Hardin was so surprised to see a man in a wheelchair in the middle of nowhere, he passed him by. He went a mile before turning around and going back. After making another U-turn he was parallel with the man.

“Can I give you a ride Mr.?” Hardin called out after opening the passenger window.

“Reckon I could use one,” the old-timer replied and spat out a wad of tobacco. His long beard was stained with tobacco juice.

Hardin pulled ahead of him and off to the side of the road. He popped the trunk of his SUV and walked around to the back. He helped push the old-fashioned heavy wheelchair through the soft sand and to the passenger door of the SUV. The old man stood shakily and steadied himself with the open door. When he was securely inside, Hardin closed the door and pushed the wheelchair around to the back and loaded it in.

Driving down the road, Hardin tried to make conversation with his unusual passenger.

“Where you going out here, anyway?” he asked conversationally.

“Furnace creek.

How about that! That’s where I’m going.

After that it lapsed into silence, and Hardin refocused his thoughts on the business ahead. If all went well, he’d only spend a matter of hours in the hot hellhole. A day at the most. He prided himself on efficiency. Stopping to help someone wasn’t something normal for him. If he wouldn’t have been so surprised at the sight he might not have stopped. Plus, he was bored. But the old bastard turned out to be a lousy conversationalist.

At one point Hardin had to piss and pulled over to the side of the road. He asked the old man if he needed to go? He said he didn’t. As he got out he made sure to take his keys with him. Just in case. You never knew. He took his time and stretched his arms and legs afterward, trying to ease the dull ache of a very long drive.

It was getting dark when Hardin spotted the turnoff. He could see a few distant lights and followed the dirt road to a campground. “Is this where you live?” he asked.

“Yup.”

He stopped the car and got out. Two old men were sitting on rickety lawn chairs in front of an old mobile home. They watched him with curiosity as he unloaded the wheelchair and took it to the side of the SUV. He helped the old man out and into the chair. There was an awkward silence before Hardin finally said, “Well, here you go.”

The old man looked at him as if he were sizing him up and grunted, “Thanks.

Hardin got back in the car and drove over to the Inn at Death Valley. “Screw the ungrateful old bastard,” he mumbled out loud as he pulled up to the Inn. He’d reserved a room for the night, even though his business wasn’t expected to take him long. As he checked in the clerk gave him a sealed envelope with his name on it.

“This is for you sir,” he said, like Hardin couldn’t read or something. He went back out to the SUV and grabbed his overnight bag, and his gun from the glove department. It was all he needed. When he got to his room he opened the envelope. There was a photo with a man’s name written on it, and an address. The thought of getting a good night’s sleep was irresistible. He decided to take care of business in the morning when he would be more rested. The air conditioning in the room lulled him into a comfortable sleep.

The next morning after having a cup of coffee and a light breakfast he studied the note and photo again. The address was in the campground he was at last night. Driving over to it he thought about the old man in the wheelchair.

When he got there, the two old men from the day before were sitting on their lawn chairs, talking with his hitchhiker friend in his wheelchair. He pulled out the photo again and got out of the SUV. As he walked up to them he called out, “Hi! I’m looking for Jude Grishom.”

He held the photo out and waited for an answer. As he looked at the hitchhiker something slowly dawned on him. He imagined him without his long beard. Like the shaved face in the photo. Instinct took hold and he pulled his concealed gun out and said, “Hey, Jude! This is from Harry Connell!”

To his surprise nothing happened when he pulled the trigger! Jude smiled at him and threw the bullets on the ground by his feet. He pulled out an old six-shot Smith and Wesson from a bag hanging off his wheelchair.

“You tell Harry that Jude said I’ll meet him in hell someday, but he’s going first!

Hardin spun around as the first shot caught him in the chest. The next three shots brought him down and he died in the sand.

“Well boys, old Harry ain’t ever going to quit sending these goons after me. I’m going to get tired of trolling the highway for ’em one of these days, and I’m going to hunt him down,” he said, as he stood up and stretched his legs.

As It Stands, every good favor doesn’t always warrant a reward.