There’s No Mistake Like Picking the Wrong Man. Borrowed to the Bone. Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

His mother’s voice was the sweetest sound Ben Tom had heard in weeks. Irene was a beautiful brown-eyed brunette who had retained her figure even after three boys. She could have had her pick of several men, but she chose Buck Blanton because he was her husband’s worst enemy. She wanted to hurt Purcell Lawless as much as he had hurt her.

She knew Buck had been in trouble with the law and was a bully, but the burly redhead was a skilled carpenter and mechanic, a good provider, and she needed security more than anything else. Purcell had been a loving and kind husband, but could not be depended on to stay at one job more than a month. And he loved all women and seldom refrained from showing it.

Buck had never hit her, but had no such reservations about her children. Six months after they were married, she found Trez lying face down in Buck’s gamecock pen, a fighting rooster pecking the back of his head. Buck had sent him in to clean up the pen and left him there.

Buck made Willy cut Johnson grass with a steak knife and Ben Tom had been mauled when he was forced to feed and exercise Buck’s vicious racing hounds.

Irene left Buck and moved away to Cleburne, but Buck followed, bringing her a ’64 Black Ford,  the first new car she had ever owned.

The car and promises worked for less than two months. She caught Buck slamming Willy’s head against a wall with Ben Tom running toward his stepfather with his billy club, trying to protect his little brother. When Buck backhanded him to the floor and took the club, Ben Tom pulled his switchblade.

Realizing all their lives were in danger, Irene took her sons to their father. Purcell seemed shocked, unprepared to accept responsibility for his sons, but pleased. He readily ejected a woman who was living with him to make room for his sons, but hooked up with Donna less than a month later.

Irene’s voice was sweet and kind to Ben Tom. “You mean your daddy didn’t go to the school with you?”

“Daddy’s gone off looking for Donna.”

Ben Tom heard the expected intake of breath. He knew how his mother felt about Donna.

“You mean he just went off and left you?”

“Left us with Uncle Clark. We ain’t got any clean clothes, underwear or toothbrushes. Daddy said he’d be back soon with lots of money. He’s got a job as a mud-man with an oil company.

“Mud-man, my hind leg. Are you at that school a few blocks from Clark’s house?”

She was there by noon, signed the papers to enroll them in their sixth school in as many years. They stood before her on the steps of the school as she prepared to leave. She kneeled and kissed each one on the check. She held their hands together as tears came into her eyes. “I can’t believe my kids are gonna be Grove Rats.”

Trez did not like being called a rat. “What are Grove Rats, Mama?”

“Never you mind, Trez.” She didn’t want to explain it was a term used to describe children, almost all disadvantaged, who grew up in the Pleasant Grove community in the shadow of downtown Dallas. She kissed them goodbye and was gone.

Underwear, toothbrushes and other essentials were waiting when they returned home to Clark’s house that afternoon with a note saying she loved them and would see them soon. Willy, closest to his mother, the one who would miss her most, took a pack of gopher matches from his pocket, struck one, and burned the note.

In the weeks and months that followed, the boys met at a 7-11 close to the school each day at noon. Ben Tom deposited a dime, let the phone ring twice, and then hung up. The phone spit back his dime when the call was not completed. A few seconds later, their mother called the pay phone and they all talked.

They visited Irene only when she could sneak away from Buck and meet them at a restaurant or pick them up from school. Their father sent one letter saying that he had one more project to do for the oil company before he would be “furloughed” and come home.  No mention of Donna.

All the boys had trouble making passing grades in school because they were absent so much. When one teacher found a poem Willy had written, Willy set fire to it in her hands as she tried to read it. She knew he was much brighter than his grades reflected, but he was just too angry to apply himself. And he was absent at least one day a week.

Willie wanted to be tough, not smart. He spent a lot of time in detention and bent over the principal’s desk taking licks from a paddle.

Ben Tom had trouble with the three R’s, but excelled in anything that fueled the creative fire that stirred within him. When he was supposed to be reading or memorizing spelling words, he drew.

When he was assigned a simple shoeshine box in shop class, he built a box with separate compartments for brown and black polish, polish cloths, saddle soap, and little hangers for brown and black brushes. Each compartment had a hinged door. The creation was hand lacquered to a warm glow. The teacher gave him a C for failing to follow instructions.

He designed and built a small metal sculpture to honor vets returning from Vietnam, complete with a metal American flag, a helmet, and miniature, intricately designed weapons of the Vietnam soldier. He built it with a soldering iron, fusing wire hangers and other scrap metal. He was not given a grade because sculpting was not part of the curriculum.

Trez was also bright, but covered his pain and homesickness for his parents by becoming the class clown. He pretended to look at life as a circus and studiously developed an attention span limited to about fifteen minutes. At ten, he was already hustling for marijuana and beer.

Outside the school, the brothers had trouble with bullies. Uncle Clark showed them all a little judo and they picked it up quickly. Bill Tom was big for his age and could take care of himself. He saw it as his duty to protect his little brothers and Trez called on him regularly.

But Willy, not much bigger than Trez, wanted no help. His reputation for biting, kicking in vulnerable places, going for the Adam’s apple, and sticking his thumbs in eyes protected him. If he lost a fight with his hands one day, he would bring a knife or club the next day and exact revenge. Even bigger boys soon feared him.

Ben Tom found work in a junk yard a few blocks from Clark’s house and brought in enough money to buy the boys a few clothes and occasional snacks. However, the work kept him away from school more. Willy, too young and small to find work, put aside his grievance against his uncle when he discovered that he needed his uncle for a partner. He kept his scheme a secret from Ben Tom.

Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.

You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.

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