December 21, 2009

The Hobby

By Milton T. Burton © 2009

At first Sam MacCord didn't think the van was going to stop. But at the last moment the brakes squealed and it pulled up beside where he stood on the narrow oil-topped road. The driver took his time about rolling the window down, just as he took his time about everything. He was a skank, with long skanky black hair and a Mephistolian mustache and a grungy goatee. He wore a black leather vest over a white tee shirt and spiked leather wrist bands. Heavy metal music pounded away on the sound system, and the fetid air that came out of the van's now-open window reeked of marijuana smoke. The driver's companion was a skank too, only she was female. Dressed much the same as the driver, she had a pretty but sullen face, dark, scraggly hair, large breasts, and long legs that protruded from a pair of cut-off jeans and rested, ankles crossed, on the vehicle's cluttered dash. Sam put the driver in his early thirties, the girl maybe a half dozen years younger.

Her name was Debbie Pond, and her chief activities in life were snorting coke, gobbling downers, and functioning as a sort of ambulatory receptacle for the seminal emissions of any male skank in her immediate proximity who could be induced to part with some of his dope. Or at least that was how things had been until she met the driver of the van. The one time she'd strayed after hooking up with him, he'd whipped her so hard with his heavy leather belt that she couldn't stand up for over an hour. Not only had that helped Debbie get her head straight as to where her real interests lay, but deep down she'd secretly liked it. As a consequence of that lovely evening, she'd come to look upon their romance as a match made in Heaven.

The driver himself was a small-time coke pusher and wannabe heavy metal musician named Ronnie DeLoach who would never make it big, partly because he was void of any real musical talent. But mostly this sad fact could be attributed to his very limited life span. Although Ronnie didn't know it, at the precise moment he reached languidly toward the dash to switch off the music, he had less than twenty-four hours to live. "Yeah?" he asked in a voice that was full of annoyed disinterest.

Sam smiled pleasantly. "I was wondering if you could tell me where a woman named Linda Popper lives."

DeLoach didn't answer right away. That was another aspect of his personal style, one he'd gotten from the cheap action movies he loved where the cool dude always took his time responding to questions. Instead he spent about ten silent seconds looking Sam over. What he saw was a trim man in his mid fifties who stood maybe five-ten and was dressed in dark slacks, a rust colored shirt, and a dark gray Ike jacket. His head was bare, and his short hair, which was had been coal black in his youth, was now running heavily to gray.

"Linda Popper?" Sam reminded finally.

DeLoach jerked his thumb over his shoulder indicating the way he had come. "Back there," he told Sam.

"Right," Sam said, nodding in agreement. "That's what I've been told, but the problem is that I've already been back that way, and there are several houses." He gave the driver a friendly smile and a diffident shrug.

"Whadda you want me to do?" the skank asked. "Draw you a freaking map?"

"Maybe you could tell me what her house looks like--"

"It's yellow," the driver said impatiently, rolling his eyes. "Pale yellow. The last one on the left about a mile on down."

"Thank you. I really appreciate your--"

But before he could finish, DeLoach slammed the van into gear and roared off down the road. It had rained off-and-on all that week, and somewhere along the way the van had been in mud. As it sped away, a thumb-sized daub of damp red clay flew off one of its rear tires and landed on the front of Sam's jacket. But Sam paid no attention to the mud. Instead, he whipped a solid gold pen and a 3x5 card from his inner pocket and quickly jotted down the van's license plate number. Then he flicked the blob from his jacket and cleaned the spot as well as he could with a monogrammed linen handkerchief.

Had DeLoach been more astute and less interested in playing it cool, he might not have been misled by Sam MacCord's modest demeanor. He might have noticed that the man's pale blue eyes were both glacially cold and obscenely happy--eyes that could make cats hiss and puppies whine and send small children screeching for their mothers. But such subtleties were lost on Ronnie DeLoach. The alpha male in his little cluster group, he was master of all he surveyed. He had a crew of admiring buddies who acknowledged him as their leader, he was boning a submissive doll with big knockers who would drop to her knees at the snap of his fingers, and he had a few hundred bucks in his pocket. And to top it all off, a couple of grand nestled sweetly in his savings account down at the bank. Everything a man of his limited horizons needed. So why bother to read the message in somebody's eyes or even extend a little common courtesy? Especially some old doofus standing out in the middle of nowhere asking directions.

Sam MacCord put his pen and the card back in his inner jacket pocket and whistled softly to himself as he cranked his rented Lexus coupe and glided off down the narrow road.


The door of the yellow house opened a few seconds after Sam knocked, and suddenly there she was. She was older now--fifteen years older--and small wrinkles showed around her tired eyes. But she was still slim and pretty and her short hair was still the same copper-blonde he remembered. A close examination might have revealed a few more signs of age, but Sam MacCord didn't give a flying damn. She still took his breath away. She wore a pair of trim khaki slacks and a dark green sweatshirt from some college in Louisiana. At first her face showed surprise, and then he thought for a moment she was going to cry. "Sam?" she said hesitatingly. "Is that you?"

"Of course it's me. Have I changed that much?"

She gazed at him in silence for a long moment, then shook her head. "You haven't changed at all except that your hair has gone gray." It was then that her eyes misted up and she said sadly, "Oh, Sam, I want to hug you so bad, but I don't feel like I have any right to."

"You've got every right in the world," he said and reached out and took her in his arms and pulled her toward him. For Sam it was like regaining feeling in a limb that had been dead for years. They stood that way for a long time while he was aware of little beyond the sweetness of her body, the fleeting, cinnamony odor of her perfume, and the slow, rhythmic ticking of the old German clock on the mantle behind her.

Finally, as if by mutual agreement, they pulled apart.

"I don't know what to say," she said, pulling up her sweatshirt to dab at her eyes.

"Why do you have to say something?"

She gave him a halfhearted shrug. "Want some coffee?" she asked. "I was just about to have a cup."


"Then come on back in the kitchen. I just made a fresh pot."

She took his hand and led him, little-girl-like, back through a house that was neat and surgically clean, but cheaply furnished. The kitchen was big and sunny, and outside the windows he could see a row of early spring daffodils blooming bright yellow.

She poured them both a cup from a shiny percolator that stood on the counter. A homemade pound cake emerged as if by magic from the cabinet above the sink. Linda set a plate before him and handed him a knife. "Have fun," she said.

"This almost makes me think you knew I was coming," he said. "You remember how much I loved your pound cake?"

She nodded. "I didn't know, but I'm sure happy to see you." He ate for a while in silence, then finally she asked, "Why did you come, Sam?"

"Mr. Van Horn asked me to look you up on his behalf."

For a moment there was a flash of disappointment in her eyes. "I see," she said.

"No, you don't," Sam said firmly. "The truth is that I was about to beg off and tell him to find somebody else, but then I realized just how bad I wanted to see you myself."


"Did I ever lie to you? I admit that I've got a lot of faults, but did I ever tell you a single lie."

She shook her head and smiled sadly. "It's just that for so long I thought you were mad. I mean, I dumped you for Freddie Popper and--"

"I never was mad at you, Linda. I was hurt, but I didn't blame you. Freddie loved you, and back in those days he was more stable than I was. He had more to offer a woman, and I understood that. Hell, in your position I would probably have done the same thing."



She shook her head and dabbed once more at her eyes. "And you were always wound up so tight, Sam," she said. "That worried me, too."

He laughed. "I remember. You always told me I needed a hobby or something to calm me down, spend all the excess energy."

"You do seem a lot calmer now."

"I've slowed down a lot. Hell, I'm fifty-five-years old."

"I'm forty-two."

"You don't look it, Linda. You're still beautiful."

She blushed and looked down at her coffee cup. He reached over and patted her hand. She was naturally shy, and it was one of the things he had always loved about her.

"Me and Freddie had two good years," she said. "He'd gotten out of the life, and he was working at a straight job and making good money. That was before the cancer hit him." He sipped at his coffee for a few moments while he stared intently at her across the table, then he said, "Linda, did you know of Freddie pulling any jobs that last year? I mean before he got too sick?"

"I suspected he was doing something. I think he was trying to get some money together for me to have after he was gone."

"That's exactly what he was doing, and that's where Mr. Van Horn comes in."

"How is he?" she asked. "You know, he gave me my first job when I came to Dallas. I'm really surprised he's still around."

"He's almost eighty, and still going strong. But back to our business. Do you happen to remember a heavy-duty thug named Carl Whittle who used to hang around Van Horn's nightclubs?"

"You bet I do. He was a scary guy."

"Right. Well, he and Freddie took down a big bank in Austin about six months before Freddie died. A nightime burglary. Then that fool Whittle got all pilled up a couple of days later and got stopped for weaving all over the road. He had some currency bands and a few bearer bonds from the robbery in the trunk of his car, but none of the cash. He went down for the job, but he never ratted out Freddie. He never gave him his cut of the take, either. I guess he figured that since he was going up for at least ten years there was no reason he shouldn't just hang on to the whole score, especially with Freddie due to check out pretty soon, anyway. He got word to Mr. Van Horn where the money was stashed, and the old man laundered it and invested it for him, taking his ten percent off the top just like he always does."

"I never heard anything about any of this," Linda said. "I do know that Freddie died bitter about something, though. And he was worried sick about me. He even wanted me to look you up after he was gone."

"You should have."

She shook her head. "I couldn't do that, Sam."

He chose not to argue with her. "Anyway, Whittle drew fourteen years. He was lucky. The only evidence that tied him to the burglary was the bearer bonds, and he could have been fencing them. The jury knew he was guilty of something, but they were unwilling to hang the whole farm around his neck. But Mr. Van Horn started hearing rumors about Freddie being his partner on the job. So when Whittle fell out of the joint and came to him for his money, he asked him about it."

"What did Whittle say?"

"He told the truth. Hell, if he hadn't and the old man had found out later that he'd lied, that would have been all she wrote for Carl Whittle."

"Really? Mr. Van Horn was always so sweet to me."

"Sure he was. Because you never gave him any reason to be anything else. But he only let Whittle have half of the money. The other half is yours, Linda."

"Really? How much?"

"Two hundred and forty-seven thousand dollars."

She was stunned. "Two hundred and what?"

"Two hundred and forty-seven thousand. Mr. Van Horn has had it in a blind trust all these years, and the taxes on the interest and appreciation have been paid yearly. It's yours, Linda. You're going to need to come back to Dallas with me and sign some papers, but that shouldn't be any problem. You have a job, I suppose."

She nodded. "I'm the hostess in a real nice restaurant in Oxford. It's a steak and seafood place."

"Can you take off a few days?"

"I guess so."

He stared at her a minute, then sighed and screwed up his courage. "Linda, I want you to put your money up where nobody but you can get hold of it. I don't want you to spend a nickel of it. You don't have to. I'm rich."


"We missed one chance fifteen years ago because I wouldn't settle down. I don't want us to miss this one."

"Sam--" she began plaintively.

"Linda, please listen to me. For all practical purposes I'm out of the life now. I haven't pulled a job in years. Right now I own a very lucrative sports book in Dallas. Some of the biggest bigwigs in town do business with me, and I belong to a couple of upscale clubs. Hell, I'm respectable now. I even get invited to a wedding or a party now and then in Highland Park, if you can imagine."

"Gee, Sam. This is all so. . ."

"Are you involved with anybody at the moment?"

She shook her head. He leaned forward and looked her right in the eyes and spoke as persuasively as he could. "Linda, I'm fifty-five years old, and I don't have time to be coy. Hell, there's no need for it. We slept in the same bed for better than a year, so why beat around the bush? I realize now how much I loved you then and how much I still love you and what a damn fool I was to let you get away."

She smiled wistfully. "Aww, that's so sweet of you to say that, Sam."

"You're going to have to come back with me to do this legal stuff to get your money. Mr. Van Horn won't have it any other way. He always liked you a lot, and I think he just wants to see you one more time. While you're there I want to show you my home. I've got a nice house in North Dallas and--"

She laughed. "You own a house? I can't believe it. Back when we were together you didn't even like to rent an apartment. You always wanted to live in hotels. You said your idea of Heaven was around-the-clock room service."

He laughed with her. "Not only do I own a house, but I've learned to cook, too. Isn't that something? I'm really pretty good at it."

She shook her head in wonder. "You in the kitchen. I can't see it."

"Come back with me and you can."

"Aw, Sam. . . If we only could. . ." her voice tapered off.

"I won't pressure you. If you like what you see, we've got a future together. If you don't, then you come back to Mississippi and no hard feelings."

"When would we go to Texas?"

"I'd like to leave here the day after tomorrow. I've had a little something come up that I need to tend to in the morning."

"I guess I could," she said. "I'd have to call work and let them know. I've got some vacation time coming. Maybe I'll just take a week off."

"Do that. I'll make plane reservations as soon as I get back to my motel."

She giggled like a little girl. "I've never flown in a plane in my whole life."

"Never?" he asked in amazement.

"Nope. I'm really kinda scared of flying."

Thirty minutes later they were at the door. "Sam. . ." she began shyly.


"Do you want to stay here tonight?"

He smiled at her and reached up and brushed her cheek gently. "Of course I do, Linda. But I got a couple of things to do, so I can't. How about if I come and stay tomorrow night? Then we can get up and leave the next morning."

She nodded. He started to give her a chaste peck on the forehead, but she melted into his arms, crying. "I'm so glad you came," she said through her tears.

"Me too, Linda."


A mile down the road he pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number in Austin. The man who answered was a supervisor in the state bureau of motor vehicles who had been on Van Horn's payroll for years. "Do you recognize my voice?" Sam asked.

"Indeed I do," the man replied dryly.

"I need the name and address of the owner of a van with Mississippi plates."

"Give me it to me and your phone number too. I'll call you back in a couple of minutes."

Sam rattled off the information. "And see if you can pull up the picture on the owner's driver's license, too," he said. "I want to make sure I've got the right guy."

"Will do."

He drove leisurely on, enjoying the early spring afternoon and the tender green of the world around him. After about five minutes his phone buzzed. "Yeah?" he said.

"That van is registered to one Ronald DeLoach. You want his address?"

"You bet," Sam said and pulled over to the side of the road and wrote quickly on a 3x5 card. Then he asked about the photo.

"Yeah, I got it," his contact said. "Want me to fax it to you?"

"Just describe the guy."

"Skinny, Long black hair, goatee, thirty-three years old. A really scroungy looking young toad."

"You're a good man, Lewis," Sam said. "Forget you ever heard from me."

"Don't I always?"


The next morning Sam parked two blocks down and around the corner from the bungalow the skank rented on a narrow, shady street in a blue collar neighborhood in Oxford. The front door lock was a cheap in-the-knob affair. Sam pulled a pair of channel-lock pliers from his coat pocket, and after one sharp twist he was inside.

The place was cleaner and neater than he expected but not as tidy as he would have been comfortable living with himself. The living room took up the whole front of the house. It was furnished with cheap modern furniture, and posters for various heavy metal bands were thumb-tacked here and there about the walls. The largest, at the end of the room, was a large framed photo of Van Halen. A fancy sound system occupied one wall, and in the place of honor right in front of the faux fireplace a small ceiling-mounted spotlight shown down on a coal-black Fender electric guitar that rested on a fancy chromium stand like some ancient pagan god awaiting a sacrificial virgin.

Sam's shoes were rubber-soled, and he was good at what he was doing. He checked the house quickly. Besides the living room and the attached kitchen, it contained only two bedrooms and a small bathroom. The smaller bedroom was empty and looked like it hadn't been used in some time. The larger of the two contained a mammoth king-sized bed fitted with black satin sheets and a black coverlet. In it slept the skank. The girl was nowhere to be seen, for which Sam was deeply grateful. Had she been present, he would have quietly left the house and put the whole matter in the future reference file.

A wooden kitchen chair rested in front of a small dressing table to one side of the bed. Very carefully Sam moved it beside the bed and sat down. Then he fired up one of his small Cuban cigars and blew a great puff of smoke toward the skank's face. The boy's nostrils twitched and he stirred a little under the sheet. "Wake up, Rock-Away Johnny!" Sam said loudly.

The skank's eyes opened. "What the. . .?" he began.

"Tell your ma! Tell your pa! Our love's a'gonna grow!!" Sam sang melodiously. "Ole Rock-Away Johnny. Top of the morning to you, Johnny me boy."

The skank shook his head and blinked his eyes a few times. Then they widened in disbelief.

"That's right, my friend. I'm the guy you were so courteous to yesterday on the road out near Water Valley." The skank blinked some more. "How the hell did you get in here?" he finally asked.

"Through the front door. Getting into locked places is my trade. Or at least it used to be. Where's the girl?"


"The girl who was with you yesterday, idiot. Where is she?"

"Oh, her. She went home to see her mama for a few days. The old bitch is sick."

"The old bitch? That's how you talk about your girlfriend's mother to strangers? You're such a lovely fellow, Johnny."

"My name's not Johnny," DeLoach said sullenly for lack of anything better to say. He was confused. Last night's mixture of whiskey and cocaine had dulled his normally dull senses even more than usual.

"I know that," Sam said. "But as it happens, I didn't care for the name your no doubt genetically defective parents bestowed upon you at birth. So I changed it to Rock-Away Johnny for the short time you have left here on this vast and turbulent globe we call Mother Earth. Any objections?"

The skank was getting his wits about him, and his basic personality was beginning to emerge. "Yeah. I don't like it," he said.


"So who the hell do you think you are coming into my crib like this?"

"Who do I think I am? The last time I looked at my driver's license it said I'm some guy named Sam MacCord, so I guess we'll just have to roll with that. You know, like in the old Johnny Horton song."


"Johnny Horton, the king of rockabilly." Sam sang once again: "Where the river is winding, big nuggets they're finding. North to Alaska! Go north, the rush is on!!"

"Man, I don't like that redneck shit."

Sam smiled and sang on: "Yes, Sam MacCord was a mighty man, and the year was ninety-one."

"Well, you don't look too damned mighty to me. I think I may just get out of this bed and kick your sagging old ass."

"Wrong, Johnny," Sam said happily. He reached deftly inside his jacket and withdrew a silenced Ruger .22 target pistol and pointed it right at the boy's head. "You're not going to do anything of the sort because your ass-kicking days are drawing peacefully to their close."

"Huh?" DeLoach was suddenly mesmerized. He'd never seen a gun from the business end before, and he didn't like it. "What's that thing for?" he asked stupidly.

"When the time comes I'm going use it to blow you right out of your shoes. Metaphorically speaking, of course, since you don't seem to be wearing any shoes at the moment. And a .22 doesn't really have that much blasting power. They're great for brain shots, though."

The great Rock-Away Johnny, nee Ronnie DeLoach, stared at Sam MacCord and his gun while his drug-addled mind tried desperately to get a handle on the unusual situation he was finding himself in. He didn't really believe that this goofy old fart was going to kill him. It just wasn't within his capacity to believe that anybody would kill him for no good reason. After all, he was a cool dude. And even more than that, in his rather limited social circle he was THE MAN, and nobody whacked THE MAN. But he was savvy enough to realize that you didn't just walk into Wal-Mart and buy a silencer for $19.95 or whatever. Silencers were highly illegal, and had been for about a zillion years. In fact, he knew a guy from Shreveport who'd once drawn five years hard time just for having one of the damn things. It hadn't even been attached to a gun. And that definitely looked like a silencer on the end of the automatic the goofy old fart was pointing his way. Which meant that its owner was almost certainly some kind of authentic heavy, maybe a CIA spook who'd gone a couple of turns around the bend with all the Casper The Ghost crap those guys had to put up with. He pulled himself up a little in the bed and gathered his legs in close to his body. It was beginning to look like he was going to have to get physical.

Sam watched his movements, smiling all the while and reading the boy's mental processes with pinpoint accuracy. Rockaway Johnny was getting notions. Ideas, even. Sam loved it. "You're number nine," he said.

"Number nine what?"

"Assholes. You're the ninth despicable, ill-mannered asshole I've been in this very same situation with."

"I don't get it."

"You don't?" Sam asked cheerfully. "It's really very simple. You see, some people hunt. You know, quail, pheasant, deer. Things like that. Others fish or play golf or bridge or refinish antique furniture. Then you have these guys who're into coins and stamps. And I know a couple of little old ladies who collect dolls from all over the world. But with me, it's assholes."

Johnny was authentically mystified. He was having a very difficult time following Sam's logic. "You collect assholes?" he asked in a puzzled voice.

Sam MacCord laughed. He felt great. "In a manner of speaking," he said. "I don't keep them, though. I send them on their way."


"That's right, I dispatch 'em. I find 'em here and there, and then we have a little chat, after which I send them on someplace else."


Sam shrugged. "Wherever it is we go when it's all over."

The skank grimaced. "Aw, man, let's drop this shit. It's freaking me out."

"What's freaking you out?"

"All this talk about when it's all over when we both know you're not going to shoot anybody."

Sam sighed, mildly exasperated. One of the things truly vexed was when people told him what he wasn't going to do. Which in his view was extremely presumptuous of them since he often didn't even know himself. But at that particular moment it was crystal clear exactly what his next move was going to be. "Wrong again," he said and quickly raised the gun and blew Rockaway Johnny's left earlobe clean off his head.

The fool's mouth fell open and he gazed at Sam like a man hypnotized. He reached tentatively up and felt his ear, which was beginning to bleed freely. "You shot me!" he said, his voice full of wounded dignity.

"That's right. And I intend to shoot you some more in a few minutes, but I thought we'd talk some first."

"You shot me!"

"Didn't anybody ever tell you that repetition is tiresome? Grab a bunch of Kleenex out of that box on your bedside table and squeeze them up against your ear if you want it to stop bleeding." The skank stared at him dumbly. "Go on," Sam said, motioning with the Ruger. "Get some tissues."

Rock-Away Johnny scrabbled a handful of Kleenex out of the box and pressed them gingerly against the side of his head, his eyes still warily on Sam. Finally he blurted, "You're crazy, man! Freaking crazy!!"

Sam nodded thoughtfully. "It's possible, and I'll be the first to admit it. In fact, I've given the matter considerable thought in the last few years." Then he shrugged and smiled. "But finally I quit worrying about it. I just figured, what the hell? I'm happy as a lark, so if it ain't broke, why try to fix it?"

Rock-Away Johnny couldn't formulate an answer to that particular question. The earlobe business was forcing him to drastically reevaluate his previous assessment of the situation. Indeed, he was getting religion where the subject of Sam MacCord was concerned. He was beginning to comprehend that this goofy old fart was one serious dude. "Why have you got it in for me?" he asked. "Why not somebody else?"

Sam sighed once again. "Because you're an asshole, Johnny. I've already told you that once. Can't you remember anything?"

"But there are lots of assholes!"

"Don't blame me. I'm certainly doing my part to rectify that situation."

"You can't just go around shooting people because you don't like them!"

"Can you think of any better reason to shoot them?"

"Uh. . ."

"Now if you were the sort of fellow who was inclined to historical research, which of course, you're not, you might check out the Dallas and Biloxi newspapers from about thirty years back. If you did, you're find me mentioned pretty often. Back in those days the reporters had me linked with an outfit they called the Dixie Mafia. It never existed, really, to be perfectly truthful. The term was just a lurid journalist's creation that was used to describe a bunch of us fun-loving ole country boys who did a lot of robbing and killing back then. Even the Texas Rangers handled us with tongs and gloves, so to speak, and my own name was linked to some pretty heavy scores and a couple of contract hits. But you didn't know any of that yesterday afternoon. You thought I was just some old guy you could get away with treating as shitty as you wanted treat him. Bad mistake."

"Yeah, but. . ." The boy's voice trailed off.

"Yeah, but, yeah but, yeah but," Sam repeated. "You sound like a spoiled first grader." He stood with agile quickness and took one step back away from the bed. "And you're starting to bore me."

This was the worst cut of all. Nobody had ever told DeLoach he was boring. His buddies all competed for his attention, and the women were his for the taking. When he talked, people listened. "You old bastard--"

"Hush!" Sam said loudly.

Startled, Johnny stopped speaking. He just couldn't get a grip on where this man was coming from.

"Try to exit with a little grace, my young friend," Sam said. "After all, grace is one of those delicate, elusive qualities that separates us from the beasts of the field."

The boy was still puzzled. Wha--" he began, but before he could finish, Sam MacCord raised the silenced pistol, took quick aim and gently squeezed the trigger. And so Rock-Away Johnny passed from this life, a small, neat hole in the precise center of his forehead and a look of profound bafflement on his scraggly face.


The Delta MD 80 lifted off the runway at the Jackson airport, bound for Dallas. Sam and Linda were in the first class section where he'd insisted she take the window seat. She was nervous and clutched his hand tightly all through the takeoff roll. "Jeze!" she said once they were airborn. "Do they always climb at this steep an angle?"

"It depends," Sam replied.

"On what?"

"Different things. The load they're carrying, the weather, the type of plane. This Douglas 80 series is real agile. A lot of fun."

"Fun? You call this fun?"

"You'll get used to it after a few flights."

"Am I going to be flying more?"

"If you want to. Have you ever been to Europe?"

"I've never been anywhere, Sam. Heck, I've waited tables most of my life."

"Just relax and enjoy the view. As soon as we get to cruising altitude the flight attendant will be around with the drink cart and I'll get you a scotch. You still like scotch?"

She nodded, and looked out the window. He held her hand and said no more. After a couple of minutes she peered at him again. "Why are you smiling so big?" she asked.

"Oh, I was thinking about something I must have heard my grandfather say a thousand times."

"Yeah? What was that?"

"He claimed that to be really content a man needed a good woman, a rewarding trade, and an interesting hobby."

"And. . .?"

"It sure took me an awful long time to have sense enough to hang on to that good woman."

She squeezed his hand and leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek, then turned to gaze once again in fascination out the window where the soft, green Mississippi countryside was rapidly falling away as the plane climbed swiftly into the bright spring sky.

Milton T. Burton was born and raised in East Texas. He has been variously, a college history teacher, a political consultant, and a cattleman. He has published two crime novels with St. Martin's Press, NY titled "The Rogues' Game" and "The Sweet and The Dead." His third book, "Nights of The Red Moon" is due to be released by St. Martin's in the fall of 2010.

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