Luke Dychester’s Last Resort
The latest off the mountain is here for the tellin’, which I’m a mind to do.
Big Paul Burstill was talkin’ to them all. He said, “Well, I’m not tellin’ any old wife’s fishy tale when I tell you about Luke down there at the foot of Hodd’s Mountain runnin’ the store like it was his grandpappy’s old drummer wagon, the place stuck up with the most meddlesome lot of junk you can imagine a thought on, if you was to a mind, thinkin’ a horse or two had drug that old wagon all over the mountain in its day.”
Big Paul, only three drinks into Sat’day evenin’ like it’s goin’ to last clear past Sunday come, spun on his butt at Tooley’s Grog Shop feelin’ it was necessary to gain all the attention bein’ available in the saloon. He looked at all the faces and saw some and others he didn’t see ‘cause they was too far away, which ain’t but a dozen or 20 feet for a man with glasses he ain’t been used to in a couple of years yet, which some folks call bottle ends.
He says, in his continuin’, “Luke ain’t no magician any way you look at it, but he’s empowered a bit with the thought he can drum up some goodly stuff ever’ now and then, like we all dream of, me bein’ in there too.”
In his habit of eye-catching at talks, Big Paul looks away and back like he saw somethin’ out there and is gonna hold it secret, and says, “Luke has a neat pick on some things, like he was owed it from elsewhere, you know where I mean, and me sittin’ here on this stub of a stool and you all waitin’ on some more magic I ain’t got, even at make believe. Let me tell you for the hundredth time or so that Luke, as bein’ my friend since we was the twins of pups of a litter that near was tossed in the river in an old burlap bag, like dog food other than table scraps, and that not bein’ much to begin with, bein’ less than nothing’.”
“A fella from the coast got a quick gander at some of the storage Luke’s got piled to kingdom come on them shelves of his, and ever’thin’ in boxes and big tins and small crates and ever’one’s got a name on it in Luke’ s own printin’ hand, the letter’s big as life and then some more juice he kicked into it, like the tin container that says ‘Army of the Potomac’ and some more letters but in Luke’s own rough print it says ’12 loafs, bread,’ and there’s a small tin about like a thin loaf of bread sittin’ square on top of that dozen container and Luke says he can see the gent smellin’ the bread heatin’ up on an open fire at one of them battles and his eyes is lit up like the fire some Gray Johnnies had goin’ or the poor Blue.”
“All this while the gent’s lookin’ at them tins ‘n’ boxes ‘n’ cartons ‘n’ round containers and a whole shelf of real odd ones and he’s studyin’ ever’thin’ writ on the outside and he says to Luke, ‘Where’d you get all this stuff and how long have you had it here?’ And his eyes don’t stop none of his searchin’ and’ they keep goin’ on row and row like he’s mem’rizin’ the whole shebang and Luke is just lookin’ sad like the whole while with his eyes on the empty cash drawer on the counter and his fingers fishin’ in around and findin’ nothin’ and his eyes at last like they was fallin’ to pieces or the worst kind of sadness like someone lost comin’ home from the army and he don’t know his way to his own cabin and he’s a whole lot of lost since he left his buddies.”
“But Luke says, ‘Oh, my Pap was a collector of things for years, from way back to Chickamauga and Stanton Hill and Gettysburg and Shiloh and all them places all over,’ and he sees the gent’s eyes like they sprung up with fire as he’s lookin’ around and the gent says, ‘May I look in some of the containers to satisfy my curiosity?’ and Luke says, ‘That curiosity of your’n don’t pay me nothin’ and you’d be wantin’ to check ‘em all out which done took me all these years to build up waitin’ for a fella like you, so what you see is what you get as curiosity, like I said, pays me nothin’ on the dollar, to coin a phrase for you.’”
“Luke’s still fishin’ his hand in that empty cash drawer and he’s got a look on his face like he’s out on the river and can’t swim not a stroke and nary a soul in sight for helpin’, which is kinda miserable to look at if you got any feelin’s in your whole body like I had, for the time bein’ anyway.”
Big Paul caught up to his breath with some easy concern, from where I sat, and went on to continue where he’d started from, “Luke, as I said, was barterin’ to sell some of the contents of the store in the back area where all ‘em shelves are loaded to this snappy lookin’ feller from some city most likely near the ocean itself who had come up to him and said, ‘Say, Mister, instead of you working all day today and into next week, why don’t you sell me all the stuff that’s in the store here. I’ll give you best dollar for it. In fact, I’ll even buy the store from you, if you want to make the biggest sale you ever pulled off in your whole life.’”
“Now, even as I tell this here story, exposin’ some of Luke’s business, and lettin’ loose some old family secrets in the discussin’, you wouldn’t believe how old Luke set that city gent back on his wore down heels.”
The crowd in Tooley’s Grogshop was right into it, gettin’ in on somebody else’s business without it costin’ them nary a nickel. The chairs and stools in that whole room, all the way into the corners, began to practic’lly walk on their own four legs and began crowdin’ Big Paul, which is the way he likes things at story tellin’.
“Luke eyes the gent and says, ‘That’s right interestin’, mister, and you got some real sharp eyes in that head of your’n, and I’d sell the whole place and all this stuff my Pap collected for over 75 years and the whole store he once’t owned, but I ain’t ever leavin’ this valley and I’d have no place to go,’ and he looks sadder than his whole life of bad spots and says back to the city gent, ‘If you was to keep in mind what you’re been thinkin’ of on an offer and also put into it that you’ll buy poor Skeeter’s place on the cross corner with my name as new owner and I just might make a deal, seein’ as you’re so dead set on gettin’ all my Pap’s stuff under hand.’”
The whole place was leanin’ forward in their chairs as Big Paul waited afore he was goin’ to say any more, havin’ them all, ever’ last one of them, in the dead middle of his hand. And he breathed hard a couple of times like he had his own mystery whose parts he was missin’ before he said, “Why that smart city fella went right directly on a bee-line to Skeeter’s place on the other corner and came back in 15 minutes and put the new owner’s paper right in Luke’s hands and said, ‘A deal it is, said and done,’ and you know what happened right then. Why Luke up and left the place, the whole store in the hands of the city fella and went over to his new place and had his son bring the wagon from around back of the stable as it was loaded with all kinds of boxes and tins and containers you ever did see and started puttin’ them up on Skeeter’s old shelves like they had a mind to be there.”
I mean to tell you, ever’ seat in Tooley’s Grogshop was filled with folks still leanin’ forward to hear the end of Big Paul’s tale, and he run them waitin’ minutes into almost as long as an eclipse movin’ into and out of darkness, and went on to say, “Luke was fillin’ up the shelves with that new wagonload of empty boxes and all the time he could hear that city fella across the street tossin’ down all over the store all those empty boxes and tins and strange odd-shaped containers Luke had on his shelves for all them years, and a whole bunch of cursin’ goin’ along with it, and old Skeeter’s place was gettin’ resupplied for some city fella out there somewhere ready to make a visit and peek at all the names Luke was writin’ on his next load of shelvin’ for the next best offer in the world.”
And the whole of Tooley’s Grogshop went absolutely crazy and wild with laughin’ that had no end and guts abustin’ out all over and back-slappin’ like you ain’t heard in years, when Big Paul said, “And old mountain-smooth Luke went and done it again like we always knowed he would.”
Bio note: Sheehan’s last eBook, The Westering, has been nominated
for a national book award; and he went global in June, on the cover
of Nazar Look in the Ukraine with a story and an interview, and a
story in the D-Day issue of MGVersion2datura from France and a piecein Mexico’s In Other Words: Merida and Ireland’s The Linnet’s Wings.