His drinking allowance gone, Rick sat at the bar nursing his last beer, pretending to watch the news, and wondering how to scam another. Looking around Dollar Bill's Bar and Grill, he spotted no one he knew. Other than a handful of people at two tables, the place stood empty. Most of the regulars came later, and his wife expected him home long before that.
The door opened and two young men, probably professional types based on their clothing, entered and made their way to the bar. They each grabbed a stool just two down from him, and ordered beer from the tap. Rick listened as they pointed to the pictures of the sports figures strewn about the walls. They made a game out of figuring out who they all were. "That's Joe DiMaggio," he heard, "and that one… isn't that Mean Joe Green?"
But one picture had them stumped. Rick decided to try working it to his advantage. "You boys want to know who he is?"
"We don't recognize him," one of them said. Big guy. Red hair. Probably worked out. A lot.
"That's 'cause he's a bit of a local legend and not a sports figure," Rick said. "You might say infamous. It's quite a bit of a story though, and a lesson to boot."
"You know him," the other asked. Shorter but well built too. Probably worked out together.
"Hugh McDevers. Yep, met him." Rick lightly tapped the bar. "Someday maybe I can tell you about him, but my money's gone and I should be too."
The bigger one said, "I'd like to hear if you don't mind. Tony and I have some time to kill and a local legend seems a good way to do it. If you can stay, we'll buy. I'm Scott." He offered his hand.
Rick hesitated for a moment, not wanting to look too eager, then took the proffered hand and sat back down. He then shook Tony's hand. "Well, I guess I can stay a little while longer. My name's Rick."
They waved down the bartender and soon Rick happily held the sweating glass of an ice cold beer. He turned his stool toward them and rested his arm on the bar. "About fifty-years ago, in my twenties, I fell for a girl named Betsy Lou Devine…"
Rick watched Betsy Lou pull up to her house in the old, blue Impala her dad bought for her. He peered from behind the hedges along their neighbors yard. It amazed him how small she looked beside her car. But then she looked small beside almost everything. She had a temper, though. Much larger than that petite body should've been able to contain. Which is probably why it came out so quick.
"Dammit Rick! I told you to stay away from me."
"I just happened to be passing by when you pulled up," he said, smiling his most winning smile. "Besides, what would your parents say if they heard you talk like that?" Rick saw her beautiful green eyes, normally brighter than any emerald, radiate anger more powerful than the uranium in an atomic bomb.
"You LIAR! I watched you come from around the Benson's hedges just now, and just like you've done all week. You need to stop! It's creepy. You're lucky Mrs. Benson hasn't called the sheriff on you."
"Now Betsy, all I want to do is get to know you. We can go out somewhere for dinner. Maybe that new steakhouse place with the buffet."
She laughed, which normally made his heart leap, but this one dripped with the sarcasm that withered his whole being. "You don't even have a job. I suppose you'd expect me to pay."
Rick tensed and glared back, but only said, "Just so you know, I start Monday at the steel mill where my dad works." He really wanted to say more. Words, though, got muddled in his head; and he knew all about saying wrong things when his emotions ran high. He looked up and down the street to avoid looking at Betsy, then sliding his hands in his pockets, he walked away. Maybe I'll just look for someone else. Someone nicer than Betsy. Someone not so stuck on herself.
"She related to this Hugh McDaniels?" Scott asked.
"It's McDevers. And no, she isn't."
"Then why mention her?" Tony asked.
"Patience gentlemen. I'm getting there." Rick took a big swig of his beer, then another for good measure. "Anyway, as I was saying, I stopped going to her house for a few months. I worked hard at the steel mill. Got a lot of overtime. Made really good money."
Rick got quiet and focused on his beer. Then continued, "I couldn't stay away though…"
Rick watched from behind the hedges again. Dang it! Where is she? She always gets home before now.
The sound of a vehicle approaching from behind gave him a start, and he spun toward it. Figures she'd come up behind me.
It wasn't Betsy. It was, unfortunately, the sheriff, who got out of his car, leaned on the hood and said, "Rick, what the hell are you doing?"
"Nuthin', just standing here," he said, trying his best to look innocent.
"Well you've clearly been standing there too long. And this isn't the first time I've heard complaints. Betsy's dad mentioned to me a time or two that you've been pestering her."
Uh oh. "Not me. All I was doing was talking to her."
"Maybe so, Rick, but perception is a powerful thing and I am perceiving the need to step in."
It took a moment for that to sink in. "You can't be serious, sheriff. I gotta be at work."
"Well I happen to know that it's Friday and you'll be at work come Monday morning." The sheriff walked over and opened the back door like it was a limo. "Until then you can be my guest. Best you get in."
Tony laughed. "So that neighbor, Mrs. Benson, called the sheriff after all."
Rick sighed, "I think she was in cahoots with Betsy." He drained the rest of his beer and tried not to seem expectant. Scott waved to the bartender for a new round.
Rick continued, "So I spent a night in the local jail before having bail posted. Just coincidentally I shared it with Hugh…"
Though fairly large himself, the man he shared the cell with dwarfed him. The man looked up as they put him in the cell, but said nothing initially. Rick located himself as far away as possible. He'd heard the stories and doubted he'd stand any chance against this guy. Rick felt no need for conversation, fearing to 'poke the bear' so to speak.
The quiet finally appeared to get to the big man. "I'm Hugh McDevers. I'm NOT Mac, Big Mac, or for god's sake Hughie. Anything, and I mean anything, other than Hugh will result in an ass beating." He kind of rubbed his fist in his palm for emphasis.
"Hey, no problem. I think Hugh is a great name. Kind of wish my name was Hugh, but they went and named me Rick." Idiot. Gonna get your ass beat just for talking stupid!
Hugh kind of quietly regarded him as if weighing the words, then asked, "What'd you do?"
Peeping tom, officially. "I guess you can say I'm here 'cause of love."
"I know how that can happen. Wish that's all it was for me. You see, I…"
The man tentatively, but purposefully approached Hugh, who sat on a park bench. Small, maybe five-five with gray, slicked back hair; he kept looking around as if fearing to be recognized. Hugh figured it must be the man who set up this clandestine meeting. "You must be Wilkerson."
"Yes." He again surveyed the mostly empty park. Satisfied, he continued, "I am told you might be able to help me, Mr. McDevers."
"First thing, Wilkerson, is don't refer to me as McDevers or any form of it. My name is Hugh, period. If you refer to me in any other way again, I am done for sure."
"I'm sorry Mr.-, umm. Hugh. Force of habit."
"Well, break it. And we'll see if I will help you or not." Hugh felt a bit uncertain about how skittish the man acted.
So Wilkerson went on to explain how he owned a floral shop in Mineral Lakes - Wilkerson's Florals and Gifts. For years it did a good business. But almost a year ago another shop opened across town called Two Friars Florists run, supposedly, by friars. "The thing is, Hugh, they are deceivers. I looked into what friars were since, beyond Friar Tuck, I hadn't heard of them. They are a part of the Catholic church."
"I'm by no means a religious man," Hugh said, "but so what?"
"Friars take a vow of poverty and celibacy and so on."
"Crazy people in this world," Hugh said.
"Well, yes. I guess. But they are taking a huge part of my business. I tried the local Chamber of Commerce, but they can't help. I even went and spoke to the friars," his face reddened and his voice got a little shaky, "they told me to 'fuck off.'"
Hugh laughed at that.
"I don't find it funny Mr., uh, Hugh. People go there thinking that as religious owners there will be fairness. Friars do not tell honest businessmen to 'fuck off.' Dishonest friars take advantage of my customers and that I can't tolerate."
Hugh again laughed. "You could give a rat's ass about their religious beliefs or the way they might treat customers. Face it, the problem really is less the deceit and more the impact on your business."
"I want them gone," Wilkerson said.
"It's going to cost you."
"It did cost him," Hugh said, "but it cost me more. Those friars or whatever they were had a cockiness about them…"
And you don't? thought Rick.
"...and didn't back down. One of them said 'mind your own business, Mac.' Of course neither had any idea who I was or how I felt about it, but at the time I didn't care. I got real mad and told them not to call me that."
"And they did anyway," Rick said.
"Yeah, with a 'fuck you' just before it. Now there isn't much left of their shop, or them. And I'm looking at spending some time away in a jail somewhere again." Hugh let out a big sigh and placed his head in his hands. "At least my money'll be building interest while I'm gone."
"So Hugh went away for a while and," Rick said, "to my knowledge that flower shop never reopened. Which leads me to the lesson…"
"Hey, isn't that that Hugh guy right there?" Tony said pointing.
Dammit! Rick thought turning to see Bill 'Dollar Bill' Murray come out of his office carrying a bank bag. The proprietor. The unknown face in the picture. Poor timing Bill!
Bill faced the bartender and said, "I'm running to the bank, Jimmy. You good?"
"Fine Bill. Take your time. Kind of quiet right now except for Rick here, these two gentlemen, and that table over there," he nodded toward it while idly wiping a glass.
Bill looked toward Rick, "Betsy know you're still here? She'll beat your stringy old hide if you stay too long. Maybe I should call her."
"You're an asshole Bill."
Bill chuckled, "God graced us all with a hole in our butt, Rick, even you." Bill turned his attention to Scott and Tony. "Watch him. His wife gives him a small drinking allowance every Friday and he'll do his best storytelling to get more."
"We see that," Rick heard Scott say from behind him. He felt a friendly pat on his back.
Rick turned his attention back to them.
"So all of what you said was a tall tale?" Tony asked him.
"Well," Rick said, "the part about Betsy is all true. She's the one that got me out of jail the next morning. I guess she figured anyone willing to be arrested for her might be worth considering. We got married and it's been mostly a good one. She can be a bit touchy at times though. Small but vicious. Like a rabid chihuahua."
Tony and Scott chuckled. Then Scott asked, "What about Hugh and destroying the friar's flower shop?"
"Shoot, I almost forgot the lesson, the moral to the story; and I did say it was quite a story right up front. You see, it turns out," and Rick gave his biggest, most disarming smile, "that only Hugh can prevent florist friars!"