Now that the excitement was over, it seemed to Joey that there was no longer anything to hold the three of them together. After another moment or two, Peggy slowly drifted down to the other end of the long counter and started preparing sandwiches for the deli. Raleigh's sharp, brown eyes behind the large, grey-tinted lenses of his aviator-style glasses, avidly scanned the low rows of magainze racks, underneath the front window.
"The new Sports Illustrated come in, yet?" he asked Peggy.
"Not until next Tuesday," she called back.
"How about the new Field and Stream?"
Raleigh frowned and made a face, wrinkling his pudgy nose. He purchased a package of Redman chewing tobacco and came and stood beside Joey, who still stood next to the silver ashtray. Joey watched with an amused smirk on his face, while Raleigh struggled to break open the seal on the pouch. Carefully folding back the sides, with his stubby thumb and two thick fingers of his right hand, he carefully reached inside the foil-lined pouch and pulled out a massive clump of the pungent tobacco. The long, skinny shards of brown tobacco remnded Joey of worms dangling from a hook. For just a moment, Joey almost wanted to blanche. Tilting his head all the way back, Raleigh lowered the wriggling mass into his wide-open mouth and then closed his mouth again. The tobacco produced a huge bulge in Raleigh's right cheek; he looked like an overgrown kid with a very bad case of the mumps. He stuffed the pouch inside the right pocket of his brown police jacket.
"You know, I could get myself in a whole lot of trouble if anyone on the town council saw me doing this," Raleigh spoke slowly around the massive lump in his cheek. His words came out sounding thick and slurred. "I've already been called on the carpet for chewing this stuff, while I'm on duty. It seems I have this nasty, little habit of dribbling tobacco juice all down the nice, clean, white door of their precious control car. After all, there is only one of those in town, isn't there?"
Joey snorted. "Ah, the heck with 'em if they can't take a joke."
Raleigh laughed at that, too, the way he always seemed to laugh at just about everything Joey said. He looked at Joey for a long moment with narrow, suspicious eyes.
"You know," he said, "I've been watching you for quite some time, now. But I've never seen you do anything I could arrest you for."
"Yeah, and you're never going to see me do anything you can arrest me for, either," Joey replied.
Another burst of raucous laughter. "Man, you've really grown up in the last few years," Raleigh said. "You shot up like a weed. What are you, now---6' 1", 6' 2"?"
"I thought so. And you filled out some, too. I guess runing five miles every morning and training at the gym, every day, after school, really paid off. And all that time you spend in the ring doesn't much, either, I guess, huh? What's your record up to, now---11-0?"
"And all by knock out. I've been to all of your fights, so far, and I have to say, you're one of the best young fighters I've ever seen in my life. You've got the power, all right. Just remember to keep your chin up and don't drop your right hand so much, and who knows? You just might become a champion, someday."
"I doubt it. But thanks."
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think you'd ever become a fighter," Raleigh said. "Especially not after all that garbage Butch Kilabreski and his little bunch of bullies put you through, when you were just a little guy."
"Hey, what can I say?" Joey said.
"Nothing, I guess." Raleigh grinned. Then his round, brown face turned dark and somber. "I guess you know I arrested him this morning. Very early this morning."
"So I heard."
Raleigh shook his head, puffing out his plump, lower lip. "That boy has been a thorn in my side ever since the very first day I joined the force, nine years ago. The very first call I went out on was about him. He was nine years old, then. He tried to burn down his neighbor's house with some leaves and twigs, and a handful of dried-out, old pine cones, and a book of matches he'd hooks from his mother's purse, when she wasn't looking. Fortunately, the neighbor caught him before he could ignite the pine cones. The neighbor wanted to have Butch arrested, which was why he called me. But by the time I got there, Butch's mother had already talked their neighbor out of pressing any charges against her precious, little boy.
"You know Butch's uncle Jim?" Raleigh asked Joey. "He owns the Exxon station, across the street from the entrance to the municipal park. Well, about a year after Butch tried to burn down his neighbor's house, his uncle Jim walked into his office and caught Butch with his hand in the register. Uncle Jimmy threatened to have Butch arrested---that wasn't the first time he'd caught his enphew trying to lift money out of the till. But just like that other time, before I could get there, Butch's mother talked her brother into changing his mind. And once again, no charges were brought against that rotten, little scumbag.
"This time, though, we've got him nailed dead to rights," Raleigh said. "I think. I hope. As long as his uncle Goody doesn't decide to spend some of his ill gotten gains on some high powered shyster to try and get Butch out of this jam---which I pray Goody won't do. Whether most people like to admit it or not, the sad truth of the matter is that there really are some people in this sorry, old world who are just born plain evil. And unfortunately for Monotoning, Butch Kilabreski is one of those people."
Raleigh consulted his watch. "Well, I guess I'd better be going," he said. "Before some civic-minded citizen looks out their window and notices that I'm not out there, patrolling the streets the way I'm supposed to be doing, and calls up the town hall to complain. I'll catch you later, kiddo."
Raleigh sailed up Main Street in Monotoning's one-and-only, blue-and-white cruiser car.
Joey hurried out to his own car, which was still parked at the pumps. Half-way across the desserted parking lot, he realized with a start that he was loping, almost running, with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets, just like the two strangers when they'd left the small convenience store. Joey glanced around to make sure no one was watching him. He removed his hands from his pockets and slowed to a walk.
Joey stopped at the traffic light, on Saddle Creek Road, a mile to the south of Monotoning. As he waited impatiently for the light to change, his gaze traveled to the far right corner of the intersection. There stood the old Lobsterback Bar and Restaurant---except that, suddenly, it didn't look so old, anymore. Someone had replaced the cheap, imitation walnut paneling that had covered the outside walls of the lower first floor with something that looked to Joey like plastic, stone masonry, which looked just as fake and tacky, and even worse than the original fake walnut paneling. The little, wooden, privy-shaped structure that had enclosed the front door for many years had been ripped down, as well. And they'd painted the second story a most unattractive and unappealing shade of bright, florsecent orange.
Tacked to the outside wall nearest the intersection was a huge poster announcing Happy Hour, every evening, from four to seven, pm. That hadn't been there before, either. The poster boasted a crudely drawn picture of a clock, with numbers but no hands.
Next to that poster was another large poster. The Lobsterback Bar and Restaurant now offered Live Nude Dancing, every Wednesday and Saturday night, from 9:00, pm, until closing.
Joey's sharp, blue eyes easily read the smaller, hand-printed lettering at the bottom of both signs. Carlisle Productions, Inc.
Goody Carlisle. He should have known. Goody already owned the old Monotoning Hotel, down by the double set of rusted railroad tracks, across Main Street from the 7-11, at the north end of town. Goody had owned that place for years, long before the Duduka family had ever even dreamed of moving to Monotoning. His sister Nancy was married to Dell Hennessy, who ran Hennessey's Pub, a little corner bar, on Main Street. And now, apparently, he also owned the old Lobsterback Bar and Restaurant.
What was Goody Carlisle trying to do?, Joey wondered. Did he want to own every bar and restaurant in the Valley? Or did he just want to own those bars and restaurants that were closest to Monotoning?
One night, at dinner, Frank Duduka had laughingly remarked that Goody Carlisle was nothing but a small town hotelier with pretensions to Mafioso grandeur. Now, looking at the old Lobsterback Bar and Restaurant, Joey believed his father was right.
Over the years, Joey had heard a lot of stories from a lot of people about Mr. Goody Carlisle. Besides the Monotoning Hotel and now, the Lobsterback Bar and Restaurant, at one time or another, Goody had owned half-a-dozen backwoods bars, each of which had mysteriously burst into flames in the middle of the night. Goody also owned a used car lot, a miniature golf course, a radio station, a turkey farm, a fast food franchise, two adult bookstores, housing for the elderly, several hundred thousand acres of some of the finest farmland in that part of Pennsylvania, and the contracts on at least a dozen promising, young, local fighters.
Some people in town whispered that he was deeply involved in drugs and prostitution, and even white slavery.
Behind Joey, a car blared angrily. Startled, Joey glanced in his rear view mirror and saw that the traffic light had finally changed back to green.
"Sorry," Joey said aloud and giggled, just like the nervous, little boy he still really was. He shifted down into first and buried the gas pedal in the floorboards. The old, red Corvette zoomed like a rocket ship across the intersection.
He glanced at his watch. 4:47. He was now over an hour later for his daily training session at Hansen's Gym and getting later by the second. And just wait until he told Mack he couldn't work out on Friday afternoon, that he was going to his senior prom. The old man was not only doing to rip him a new one, he was going to kill him!