“Alright, Old Man. Where’s our truck?”
“Truck? Oh. You mean that death mobile you used to shoot up a buncha’ my folk? Ain’t seen her.”
Butch stepped forward, pulling his pistol and cocking it.
“I’m not playing with you. Me and my men want our truck back now.”
“Now, now. No need to get testy. Why don’t ya’ put that thing away and set a spell so we can talk?”
As he said this, a small child in ragged clothing appeared as if out of nowhere with another chair and placed it across from the old man and disappeared as fast as she’d appeared.
“I don’t want to sit. I want to get what’s mine and get out of here. If you give it up now, we’ll leave peacefully. Otherwise, my boys are going to come rolling in here and wipe you out.”
“Your boys.” The old man said in a wheezing laugh. “Ain’t but the five of ya. Not even armed that well either. Now my people? We may not have guns, but we got numbers.”
Butch looked at him uneasily.
“That’s right. We seen ya’ coming a mile away. Now think about it. If we had your truck, do ya’ really think we’d let you get so close? Hell. If we took the damn thing, don’t ya’ think we’d have come in and wiped out everyone in that school by now? Probably woulda’ slit a few throats while we was stealin’ her too.”
Butch’s arm dropped just a hair.
“Now why don’t ya’ have a seat so we can jaw. Call your boys in. They’ll wanna’ hear this too.”
Butch waved for Nutcase who approached warily. As he waited, four more chairs were brought out. Bear and Gut eyed the flimsy chairs uneasily and chose to stand.
“Yeah, Boss?” Nutcase said.
“I need you and Bear to run and go get Rat. Might as well bring the bikes up too.”
“But where’s the truck?”
“Never mind that now. Just do as I ask and this gentleman will explain once you’re back.”
Nut gave the old man another wary glance, but then he and Bear were off. Butch sat in the chair across from the old man.
“Okay. So start talking.” Butch demanded.
“If ya’ don’t mind, I’d rather just go through all this the once. Meantime, can I interest y’all in a drink?”
Without waiting for a reply, the old man gave a whistle. Almost immediately, an elderly woman came bustling out with a bottle and handed it to the old man who pulled the cork and sniffed whatever was inside with pleasure. He made as if to take a drink, then stopped.
“Where are my manners?” He asked, shaking his head and holding out the bottle to Butch.
Butch eyed the bottle, but didn’t take it.
“Well, I guess I can’t blame you for bein’ cautious.” The old man said, and took the first drink before offering it to Butch again.
Butch took the bottle and sniffed. It smelled like paint thinner.
“What is it?”
“I just call it hooch. M’own private recipe. Don’t bother askin’ what’s in it cause I ain’t tellin. Besides, you prob’ly don’t wanna know anyway.” He gave another of his dry, wheezy laughs.
Butch still didn’t trust the old man, but there was something about him that was impossible not to like. He took a tentative swig or the hooch. It was surprisingly smooth considering how it smelled. He took a bigger drink before handing the bottle to Gut.
Gut upended the bottle and began drinking. Butch finally elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to spray a fine mist of hooch into the air.
“You want to save some for everyone else?” Butch asked.
“Sorry.” Gut said sheepishly. “That’s some good stuff.”
“No worries. I got plenty more in the cave.” He gave another whistle and the elderly lady came back out with three more bottles.
Just as she headed back to the cave, Butch heard the sound of approaching motorcycles. Bear and Nut rode slowly behind Rat, who was on the lead bike and wobbling dangerously. Butch had forgotten he wasn’t a rider. He held his breath as Rat approached a large boulder as if he were aiming for it before swerving and missing it by inches. His breath escaped in a loud bellowing laugh.
Finally, the bikes were parked and the five of them sat together as they watched the old man as he started a campfire against the gathering dusk. Two more sturdy chairs had been brought out for Bear and Gut.
Once the fire was blazing brightly, the old man sat back in his own well-worn chair.
“Now then. I suppose introductions are in order.” He said as he uncorked another bottle of hooch. “Name’s Dan, but most folks around here call me Smokey. Some o’ the younguns have taken to callin’ me Old Smokey. They love singin’ that damn song at me too.” He took a swig of hooch and passed the bottle to Butch who introduced himself. He then took a swig and passed the bottle to Bear, who did the same.
And so it went, each man introducing himself, then passing the bottle. Finally, Rat introduced himself and made to pass the bottle back to Smokey.
“Ya ain’t gonna’ take a drink?”
“I don’t drink, sir.” Rat said.
“Hmph’ Not sure I can trust a man sittin’ round my fire who refuses to drink with me.” Smokey said, eyeing him suspiciously. Butch cleared his throat and nodded to Rat who begrudgingly took a small sip.
“There now. That’s better.” Smokey said, relieving Rat of the bottle. “Now then. As I was tellin’ ol’ Butch here. I do believe Y’all got snookered.”