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Tales
of
BS Scruggs

by
Tamara Hillman

 

 
 
 

PROLOGUE

“Who’da thought pickin’ up a stranger in the middle a the Texas plains woulda changed two lives the way it done, but danged if it didn’t.
I didn’t quite know what ta think a that there city slicker, Paul Cooper, an’ I reckon he felt the same ‘bout me. Thought I was jest givin’ him a lift ta town in my ol’ truck, Betsy, after he crashed his Jaggie-war into the ditch.
Well, by the time three weeks was up, we was pert near kin, as I see it.
If your int’rested in what all happened durin’ that time, jest keep readin’…”



BS Scruggs

 

 

Chapter 1

TWO WORLDS COLLIDE



Paul Cooper’s day had begun badly. He was abruptly awakened by an airbag exploding in his face. Wiping blood trickling from his nose with the back of one hand, and with the other gently patting a small cut above his right eye, he shouted, “What the hell happened?”
No one answered.
It was still dark but a half moon sinking in a western sky illuminated enough light for him to make out the time on his Rolex. The hands read four, thirty five.
After shaking his head vigorously in an effort to come to his senses, he crawled from the mangled wreck and up a steep bank ankle deep in powdery dirt. From this new vantage point, he observed most of the contents of his car blowing across the Texas plains. I must have fallen asleep and hit the ditch, he thought. Damn! What now?
He dabbed at his nose and the cut on his forehead with napkins left over from last night’s fast food restaurant.
Surveying the damage to his bright red Jaguar convertible made him feel sick inside. He kicked at one of the front tires jutting precariously from carmel-colored dirt.
He could just make out his laptop scattered in several pieces to the left of the car, and had no idea where he might find his cell phone. Doubting he’d get reception anyway, he didn’t dwell on that particular problem.
Resigned to the fact, what was done was done, Paul decided to start walking.

The sun was glaringly bright as it crept above the distant hills. Paul slipped his leather jacket off, tying it about his waist, sleeves flopping by his sides with every step. Reaching into one of the pockets, he was thankful to find his Armani sunglasses.
He scanned the early morning horizon where land met sky abruptly across the barren countryside, and wondered, “What next?”
The cut above his eyebrow and scrape on his right knee were still painful but the bleeding had slowed considerably.
Paul was convinced he’d landed at the edge of planet earth until he heard a vehicle coming fast in the distance. He turned and shaded his eyes with one hand as he saw the old green pickup approach through heat waves rising off the pavement. Maybe life exists in this desolate land after all, he thought, then started to fret about whether the occupant might think he was only out for an early morning jog and pass him by.
Quickly unwrapping his coat from his waist, he began swinging it in circular motions above his head, all the while crossing his fingers in hopes the driver would have water with him, preferably Perrier.
The pickup came to a screeching halt just ahead of a dust cloud that soon caught up and settled mostly on the weary hitchhiker.
Paul could barely make out a tall, skinny fellow standing on the running boards of the dilapidated truck when the dust cleared. He was wearing a sweat stained cowboy hat low across his forehead, faded denims, and badly worn western boots.
“Howdy stranger, Bull Scruggs here. Whatcha doin’ out here in the middle a nowheres? Forget where ya parked yer horse?”
Paul was not amused by the cowboy’s questions but in light of the situation gave the supposed rescuer his name and a reasonable facsimile of why he was strolling down an endlessly straight highway in the early part of a Texas morning.
“I wrecked my car a few miles back. I didn’t know what else to do but start hitchhiking somewhere for help.”
“Ya don’t wanna be walkin’ in this here heat or in that direction neither, young feller. Ya ain’t gonna find nothin’ nor nobody fer twenty miles thata way,” he snickered, pointing in the direction Paul had been determinedly walking.
Paul was grateful to see another human being, and realized the man standing before him was probably his only chance to escape this desolate area sooner rather than later.
“Could you give me a ride to the next town?” he asked meekly. “I have a Triple-A card and would have already called a wrecker but it seems I lost my cell phone in the accident.”
Bull’s grin broadened. “Ya ain’t gonna need no phone ta get ya outta this here fix, an’ a wrecker ain’t gonna show up real soon neither. Climb on up in Ol’ Betsy there, an’ I’ll give ya a lift. Course, it’ll be in the opposite direction you was headed,” he grinned. “Betsy ain’t real purdy, an’ she’s mostly held together with tabacco juice ‘n rust, but by golly, she’ll get ya ta Cobalt. It’s just up the road a piece.”
Paul hurried to the opposite side of the nasty old truck, and pulled several times on the rusted chrome handle before the squeaky door finally released. Hoisting himself aboard, he pushed a pile of Lord knows what to the center of the seat, and settled in for what would soon seem a very long ride.
The glove box was a gaping hole in the dashboard, and as Bull tore off at break-neck speed, half its contents spilled onto Paul’s Italian-made shoes. He could only roll his eyes and hang on to his windowless door as the maniac he’d chosen to commune with drove wildly down the highway separating a sagebrush landscape.
After a dusty silence, Paul finally worked up the nerve to ask, “You wouldn’t happen to have water with you, would you, Mister Bull?”
“Scruggs is the name, Bull Scruggs. I sure do. Just reach behind the seat there an’ you’ll find my canteen.”
Paul reached carefully behind the seat, lifting another pile of rags, empty oilcans, and accumulated paraphernalia before he found a humble looking metal jug with numerous dents.
“Is this it?” he asked cautiously.
“Yeah, that’ll be it. When yer done, I’ll have a swig.”
Paul unscrewed the cap and wiped his sleeve across the spout just as he’d seen John Wayne and others do in cowboy movies of his youth. He took a gulp of lukewarm water before deciding it was at least wet, then handed it to Bull, who didn’t bother wiping the nozzle but instead tipped his head back and drank heartily.
As Paul was screwing the cap back on the canteen, they rounded a slight bend in the road and he spotted the rear of his car sticking askew from the ditch. “There it is!” he shouted over the roar of the engine.
Bull came to another abrupt stop, letting the dust catch up and pass by before reaching through the windowless opening on his side of the truck and pushing the door handle down from the outside. He dismounted the pickup exclaiming, “By damn, ya sure made a mess a that there fancy car a yers, didn’t ya, boy? What make is it anyways?”
Paul didn’t find the remark or questions comforting but answered, “It’s a 2006 XKR Jaguar convertible, six star rating. And yes, I guess I did quite a number on it. Do you think we can pull it out of the ditch?”
“Not with Ol’ Betsy here,” Bull said, half frowning. “It looks like ya mighta broke an axel the way it’s buried in the dirt all catty-wampus there. We’d best just get ya ta town an’ see if maybe ya can get someone out here ta pull this here Jaggie-war outta there.”
“Jaggie-war?” Paul said under his breath. “What an illiterate!”
Maneuvering himself into the ditch, Paul tried to open the trunk and retrieve the leather traveling bag he’d left behind. It popped open easily as he turned his key in the lock. He then handed the case up to Bull who tossed it in the back of the pickup like a sack of potatoes. Paul could only shake his head remembering he’d spent six hundred dollars on that bag.
They returned to the dusty truck cab and resumed their travels east.
“Where was ya headed, pal? Did ya say yer name was Paul?”
“Yes, that’s right, Paul Cooper. I was on my way back to Hollywood. I’ve been to New Orleans purchasing Creole Art.”
“Creole Art? What in tar-nation is that? I ain’t never heard of it, but to each his own, I reckon.”
Though Paul wasn’t in the mood to explain the art world to someone who would obviously not understand it or really care, he responded with a short, concise explanation.
“It’s really beautiful work done by the Creole people for over two hundred years. Only in the last few years have people started collecting and showing it though, and it’s auctioned at high-end art shows, exclusively.”
Bull did not respond.
Feeling maybe he’d been talking down to the old coot, Paul asked with all the interest he could muster, “Do you live around here?”
“Yeah, I been callin’ Cobalt home goin’ on six years now. Ever’ since my ol’ lady up an’ died. I couldn’t stand stickin’ ‘round all them memories up Jackson way where we was shacked fer twelve years. I still miss the ol’ girl. She had a good heart, ya know?”
Paul thought, no, I really don’t know. “Where did you say you were raised?” he tried to continue the conversation.
“Up in Hawks, Texas. I was born Jedediah Carter Scruggs but thank the good Lord, I been answerin’ ta nicknames ever’ since, one of ‘em bein’ BS. Now, that one fits since I’m plum’ fulla bullshit,” he laughed. “Some ol’ buddies tagged Bulldog on me in my rodeoin’ days. They been callin’ me Bull for short ever’ since.”
“That’s interesting,” Paul mumbled as BS didn’t skip a beat.
“Ma called me Jed¾only one that ever did. She said I come into this world bawlin’ an’ a kickin’, an’ a lookin’ fer trouble. I ain’t changed much since. Reckon, I lived a purdy colorful life by most standards but I ain’t complainin’ none.”
“That’s good,” Paul answered, not having a clue what the old duffer meant.
“I was reared on a little ranch just north a here. Pa was a regular guy, meanin’ he kicked my butt regular to keep me in line. Whole fam’ly worked hard grubbin’ out a livin’ on that meager piece a prairie dirt. I lit out early though, thinkin’ I’d rather be on my own. By gum, I could swear some mornings I still smell Ma’s cornbread bakin’ when I first wake up. She made a batch ever’day. Then slathered honey-butter on it while it was still hot. Man, that was good eatin’.”
Paul was relieved to see what he hoped was Cobalt coming into view. All he wanted now was to find a phone, rent a room, take a hot shower, and get far away from this uneducated fool.

Bull slammed on the breaks, coming to a skidding stop in front of a run-down, clapboard-sided building covered in peeling, sun-shriveled paint. A homemade sign that read, “Sally’s Saloon and Rooms” topped the tall false front of the structure.
“Here ya are,” he said, turning off the ignition. Ol’ Betsy gave a couple sputtering coughs before dying.
Needless to say, Paul was not impressed with the outward appearance of Sally’s place and made the mistake of asking Bull if it was the only hotel in town.
Bull gave him a sideways look and replied, “Why, it sure is! What was ya expectin’, the Holiday Inn?”
“Not exactly,” Paul said shriveling under his gaze.
“Sally owns this here place, lock, stock, ‘n barrel. An’ she’s a great little gal. She keeps the hotel clean, plus fixes grub you’ll just love wrappin’ yer jaws around.”
Paul was not so sure. He exited the pickup and pulled his dust-covered bag from the back, hesitantly starting toward the weatherbeaten double-doored entrance. He was hoping the proprietor truly was a good cook since his stomach had been growling long before he met up with Scruggs.
Stepping across the threshold, Paul waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Slowly the room came into view but he wasn’t prepared for what he saw.
My God, he thought, I’ve stepped back in time a hundred years. Furnishings that seemed worn and ancient were scattered about a small lobby with red velvet and metallic silver wallpaper. To the right of the entrance hall was an antique check-in desk, the original when the hotel was first built, Paul surmised. Behind it stood a wrinkled woman probably in her fifties but looking more like the Texas sun had prematurely mummified her.
“I’d like ya to meet Sally,” Bull said half proud. “She’ll take real good care of ya from here on out, won’t ya Sal?”
Paul shuddered to think what that might mean but remembered his manners and shook hands with the old prune-face.
“Nice to make your acquaintance,” he said. “Do you have a room available? Oh, and a phone I might use?”
“Sure do, Mister. Upstairs, an’ to your left. You can have room two. There’s a pay phone right there in the hallway. Ya gotta rattle the receiver some ta get the dial-tone though. That dang telly-phone man still ain’t come ta fix it. I been complainin’ fer a month now. Here’s yer key. Don’t lose it ‘cause we ain’t got no extras.”
Bull slapped Paul on the back and dust powdered into the already stagnant air of the lobby. “Well, I got business up the street. Be back soon. We’ll maybe have us a beer after ya get settled in.”
He turned back to the woman, tipped his hat, and said, “Thanks, Sal. You take good care a my lil’ buddy now, ya hear?”
With that he took three long-legged strides to the front door and was gone. Paul watched him through the dingy window behind Sally’s desk. Old BS strolled casually along as though he owned the town.
The room was surprisingly pleasant. Ruffles on the bedspread with matching pillow shams seemed a bit frilly but they looked clean and fresh. Definitely not the modern, silver-chromed furniture he was used to but he had to admit, it felt welcoming.
A quick shower would feel great, he thought. Unpacking a clean shirt and a extra pair of custom-fit jeans his tailor had finished just before the trip, he grabbed his shaving gear from the bottom of the bag, opened the bathroom door, and found a chipped, four-legged, enamel tub straight out of the eighteen hundreds facing him.
“Shit! No shower!” He cussed the air blue but it made no difference. I’ll have to settle for a soak in my own dirt, he decided.
Stripping off his clothes and letting water run till it was clear of rust from the pipes, he plugged the drain with an old rubber stopper and stepped in. Just being out of those grungy clothes felt good he thought.
“Ah, that’s better,” he sighed, lathering up with soap from a metal dish attached to the wall at the side of the tub. He then scrunched his body as far under water as possible to rinse.
When he’d dressed and shaved, Paul hurried from his room to locate the telephone, thinking a quick call to Triple-A for a tow truck should take care of business.
He spotted the phone in the hallway two doors down, and just as ol’ Sal said, it took a lot of banging the receiver before a tone finally hummed in his ear. After dialing the eight hundred number on the back of his card, the woman answering had a voice sounding like pure milk and honey since he’d spoken to no one in the past few hours without a severe Texas drawl.
“May I help you, sir?” she asked pleasantly.
“Please,” Paul said almost pleading. “I ran my car into a ditch about ten miles outside of Cobalt, Texas, and need a tow truck to bring it into a garage and body shop for repairs.”
“Did you say Cobalt, Texas?” she repeated. “I’ll have to look on the map to see where our nearest service to that area might be. Oh, here it is. You are a bit far from any of our stations but we could have someone there in about three hours. They’ll have to come down from Merriweather. That’s the closest service to you there. Will that be alright?”
Paul hated to sound ungrateful but the thought of hanging around this town with nothing to do for three hours made him gulp back words of disappointment.
“Yes, that will be fine, I guess. Just ask for Paul Cooper. I’m at a place called Sally’s Saloon and Rooms.” That should be enough information for anyone coming into this little drink-water town, he thought.
“We’ll notify the towing service right away, Mr. Cooper.”
“Okay, thanks.”
Paul felt like he’d broken with civilization when he heard the receiver click at the other end.
Bull hit the top stair just as Paul stuck the key back in his door lock.
“Hey, li’l buddy, would ya like ta have a beer an’ maybe some vittles downstairs?”
Even beer and a greasy burger sounded good to Paul by then, and he readily accepted the invitation.

 

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