Switch (season II)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

In season two, Johnny Burell finds living with another man's identity has its challenges.
Season one of SWITCH (with an updated episode 3) can be found on Booksie

 

SEASON II

 

Episode I

“You want to take a dip?”

Junior woke up to the question with drool on his chin. He was lying in a poolside cabana and needed a second to remember where he was, and another second to remember who he was. Even though he was now living his life as Steve Carthage Junior, when he slept he dreamt the dreams of Johnny Burell the quiet kid from Chicago who was locked up like an animal for more than a decade for protecting his father.

“Do you want to take a dip?” Sally asked again not sure if he heard her the first time.

“Sure,” Junior answered, sounding like Johnny. He followed his girlfriend out of the cabana, and the two of them headed to the pool.

“Boy it’s hot,” Sally said stating the obvious.

“It’s not the heat it’s the humidity,” replied Junior. He couldn’t help but stare at Sally’s tan body. She wore a tiny little two-piece bikini. She had a body other women hated her for. She ate and drank anything she wanted and not an ounce of fat on her.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Miami was starting to fill up a bit with guests. Junior and Sally had been there for about a week and could feel the spring break crowd starting to grow. Just when Junior thought life couldn’t get any better, more and more twenty- year- old, thong-wearing college girls were lying around the pool. The two of them found a quiet corner in the spacious pool and had a beer. Sally gave Junior a kiss that got his full attention. She whispered in his ear as she rubbed up against him.

“That blonde over there keeps watching us. You want me to ask her to come back to the room with us?”

“Sure!” Junior said, faster than he had ever said it before. Sally stepped away and gave him a little slap on the arm.

“I was kidding,” Sally said. “But I would love to grab a couple of more beers and head up to the room.”

“Sure, but I need you to stay away from me for a couple of minutes before I could get out of the pool,” Junior said. Sally went underwater to see his boner trying to escape his swimsuit.

“Okay,” she said climbing the ladder to get out of the pool. Junior couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. “I’ll just go talk to that blonde while I wait.”

“That’s not helping,” Junior replied trying to adjust his trunks.

Conveniently, the bar was on the way to the elevators.  Before stepping into the hotel, Sally bent down to pull some sandals from her pool-bag. Junior watched her dig for a second and when he looked up he was face to face with an old acquaintance.

“Johnny!” the man exclaimed.

Juniors' heart fell into his stomach. It was Willy Brown from Tatum Prison. Willy got out on parole about a year before Johnny Burell was released.  Junior knew immediately who it was from the four-inch scar over his right eye and the gold replacement tooth in his smile. Willy received both facial features courtesy of the rapist from the Arian Nation. If Johnny hadn’t intervened the damage would have been worse.

Sally was kneeling on Juniors' right side so he winked with his left eye trying to tell Willy to shut-up.

“You must be mistaken,” Junior said reaching down to help Sally to her feet and walk away.

“Did he call you Johnny?” she asked him while trying to slip her shoes on between strides.

“Joey I think,” Junior said, once again having to think quickly on his feet. They grabbed a couple of beers at the bar and got on the elevator. Sally snuck a kiss as Junior looked out of the closing doors to make eye contact with Willy Brown as he was entering the bar.

“I have to get out of this wet suit,” Sally said as she walked into the bathroom. Junior sat on the bed in half a daze. This Willy thing could be a big problem. Junior was in Johnny mode thinking about his interaction with Willy Brown and the Black Brotherhood.

“Junior, Junior, Junior,” Sally repeated, trying to get his attention. She was wearing a sexy little lace teddy. When Junior finally looked up she asked “You like?” striking a pose.

“You’re beautiful,” he said trying to put his focus on her. His performance in the bed was lackluster at best.

“That was quick,” Sally said not satisfied. Junior got up and guzzled the rest of his beer.

“I’m so thirsty,” he said, “do you want another beer?” he asked Sally.

“I’ll meet you down at the bar in a few minutes,” she said. She planned on finishing what Junior started before she got dressed. Junior was putting on his Hawaiian shirt as he was headed towards the door.

“Sorry about that,” he said. The ‘that was quick’ remark shamed him a little. Sally’s sexy wink and smile assured him it was fine.

Just as he was hoping, Junior got down to the bar to find Willy sitting by himself. He stood next to him and ordered a couple of beers for him and Sally acting like he didn’t know Willy.

“What’s up Johnny, my brother from another mother.” Willy Brown said not turning his head.

“Don’t call me Johnny. My name is Junior. You don’t know me, I don’t know you,” Junior said, also looking straight ahead.

“You running some kind of scam on that little white girl? You tapping that? You some kind of gigolo? Maybe I could get some of the action. You know you owe me for keeping you safe in Tatum all those years.” Willy said.

Junior didn’t say a word, but turned his head and stared at Willy’s scar and dental work.

“Motherfucker you still don’t talk much do you. I see you checking out my face. You right. You saved my life. It’s me that owes you,” Willy said.

“Call it even. Just stay away please,” Junior said in a begging tone. He signed for the beers and was ready to walk away. Willy saw Sally walking into the bar through the mirror behind the top-shelf booze.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir. I thought you were someone else,” Willy said, walking away from the bar. He was sure to be loud enough for  Sally to hear him. He flashed her a gold tooth smile and a nod.

“That was quick,” Junior said to Sally trying to get her focus somewhere else.

“Very funny,” she replied regretting her earlier words. “Besides you’re a big teaser, you took me half the way there.” Junior got the Lennon/McCarthy reference. They sat at the bar and drank their beer all the while Junior kept peeking at the top shelf mirror praying Willy Brown did not return.

“You want to check out the Keys for a few days?” Junior asked Sally. He thought it best if they left the hotel. He didn’t trust that Willy Brown would leave things alone. Willy had Johnny Burell in a compromising position and the Black Brotherhood knew how to use a weapon like that.

“Baby you know I have to get home soon.  I’m running out of vacation days,” Sally answered. They hadn’t addressed the elephant in the room. If Junior was going back to Laredo,Texas.

“We better make the most of our time,” he said. “You think I could get a do-over upstairs?”

“Sure,” Sally said faster than ever before. He was really growing on her.

 

Episode II

Junior knew that going back to Laredo, Texas with Sally might not be safe for him or her. Carlos Cruz didn’t seem like the type to forgive and forget. He needed to leave the `Four Seasons’ Miami because his past was fast on his heels. Again disappearing in the Florida Keys for a while seemed like a good place to figure things out. Junior figured he’d give it some more thought and discuss it with Sally over dinner.

They decided on a sports bar walking distance from the hotel. This was great news for Junior. He didn’t want to get dressed up and put his Hawaiin shirt back on. The Cubs game was just getting started in Pittsburg vs. Pirates. Junior made sure to find a seat that had a perfect view of the game. It was funny how all his stress went away during a three-plus hour baseball game.

The wings were good, but not great. After cleaning his hands and face with some Handi wipes he reached into his pocket looking for some Tic Tacs. He knew he had some somewhere, and sneaking a kiss from Sally was on the agenda. No breath mints in his shirt but there was a similar size book of matches from the hotel. Junior pulled them out of his pocket and saw a phone number with no name written on them. He put them back in his pocket immediately hoping Sally didn’t notice. She didn’t. `Perhaps the blonde from the pool put the number in his pocket. He did leave his shirt laying around a lot. Junior/Johnny was a dreamer. The numbers were written more like a grade-schooler than a college girl. `Willy’ Junior quickly deducted. After another beer, Sally was ready for sleep.

“I’m not tired at all,” Junior said.

“Of course not,” Sally said. “You had a two-hour nap at the pool. Stay and watch the game. I’ll meet you back in the room later. Wake me up.” she said with a kiss on the cheek. She was really growing on him.

Junior waited a few minutes to make sure she was gone. He took out his phone and called the number that was left in his shirt pocket.  As he heard the phone ringing on the other end he also heard a phone ringing right behind him. He turned in his barstool to once again come face to face with Willy Brown.

“I thought she would never leave,” Willy said sitting next to Junior and ordering two beers.

“I can’t be with you,” Junior said with a panic tone.

“Relax. Watch the game and listen. I don’t know what you're up to, and I don’t care. But I could use your help in an upcoming event. Does that little white girl know you’re an ex-con  Johnny or should I call you Steve?” Willy asked. He must have seen Junior sign for the beers at the hotel bar. Probably when he slipped the matchbook with his phone number into Junior’s shirt pocket. Willy was using his leverage just as Junior thought he would.

“Look, think about it. I just need some eyes and ears that blend with these swankie hotel crackerheads. My ghetto ass kinda draws attention. It pays well,” Willy said. That’s what Carlos Cruz said in `his’ job offer, Junior remembered.

“I’m leaving soon,” Junior informed Willy.

“You might want to reconsider that,” Willy said with a tone more like a demand than a suggestion. “Call me tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just knock on room 521 if I don’t hear from you.” Willy stood up and told the bartender to put the beers on Junior’s tab and left.

The Cubs had bases loaded and nobody out and Junior didn’t care. His mind was searching for options on how to deal with Willy Brown. He also had to figure out how to keep Sally in his life without going back to Laredo, Texas, and the Cruz cartel.

Junior thought the only way out of this was to tell Sally everything. He wasn’t even sure she felt the same way about him as he did for her. He was never in a relationship before.  School, work, prison, and as his mother would say `shyness’ kept him out of anything serious. He touched a neighbor's boob once while playing hide and go seek. The two of them were hiding under a porch together. She asked him to touch her after she kissed him. So he did. He liked it. Sally showed Junior his way around in the bedroom. She had no problem directing him, and he had no problem taking directions.` But what if Sally didn’t feel the same for me?’ he asked himself.  She might go to the police especially if she felt that Junior/Johnny was responsible for the death of her friend Miguel Rivera. He gave it a lot of thought and in his heart, he knew he did nothing nefarious. He protected his dad and accidentally a man died. He was clowning around with a new friend and accidentally a man died.

Junior sat in the barstool until the bartender called last round. When he looked up from his thoughts he saw the T.V. was off. He wasn’t sure who won the ball-game. He walked back, hands in pockets, to the fancy hotel. One thing he knew for sure was he liked being rich more than not being rich. The king-size beds with the thousand thread count sheets were much nicer than the J&B HEATING& AIR CONDITIONING van in Walmart’s parking lot. He got out of the elevator and entered the room to find Sally awake and wearing a new sexy red nightgown.

“Do you like this one better than the other one?” She asked striking a pose with her arms up.

“I do,” he answered. Junior had a million things on his mind,  `but they could wait till morning’ he told himself and started to undress.

“I think I love you,” Sally whispered in his ear as they embraced. He was silent.

 

Episode III

Junior was getting used to sleeping past 6 a.m. prison revelry. Especially after being up late with Sally.

“You want to go get some coffee?” Sally asked him when she saw the slightest resemblance of  Junior waking up. She had been up for about fifteen minutes and needed a cup.

“Sure,” Junior answered. He opened his eyes knowing he was Junior with all the same problems he went to sleep with. He got out of bed scratching his naked ass and headed for the bathroom still half asleep.

The hotel had a nice little coffee shop with Danish and fresh donuts. They sat in sweatpants and t-shirts sipping their coffee. Sally was eating a giant piece of cheese Danish. `Where does she put it?’ Junior thought to himself.

“Hey look there’s the guy you were talking to yesterday. He must be a guest here too.” Sally said looking over Junior's shoulder and wiping crumbs off her chin. Junior glanced and saw Willy Brown a couple of tables away acting like he was reading the paper with his coffee. Junior said nothing.

“He seems like a nice guy,” Sally said. Junior wanted to say he’s not a nice guy. He’s a fucken criminal like his father and he’s trying to blackmail me into doing something illegal. That’s what he wanted to say, but he said nothing.

“Let’s take these upstairs,” Junior suggested holding up his cup.

“Sure!” Sally said in her little sexy voice thinking Junior wanted to pick up where they left off last night.

“I said I love you last night,” Sally reminded Junior on the ride up the elevator.

“I know,” Junior replied.

“That’s it. I know?”  she asked walking into the room.

“How can you love me, you don’t even know me,” Junior said.

“I know it’s only been a few weeks but I feel like I’ve known you forever. Maybe not so much your past but I don’t care about your past. I know you have a good heart and a good soul, and that’s enough for me.” Sally told him looking deep into his eyes.

This was it. It was time to come clean. When Junior was in Tatum Prison he would play chess occasionally. Sometimes he would have to make a move to see how it would all play out. This was one of those times.

“I’m going to tell you about my whole past. It’s nothing at all what you think it is. Please don’t say a word till I’m done,” he said.

“Okay,” Sally said, a little nervous about what was to come.

“I grew up in Chicago an only child of Ann and Charlie.” Junior started.

“I thought you were a Junior?” Sally interrupted. Junior just looked at her and she pretended to lock her lips with a key.

He told her about karate lessons as a kid, and how he and his dad would have a catch in front of their apartment. He told her about his mother’s protection of him and how he always felt safe when he was with them. He told her about his struggles in high school, and when he told her about getting his H.V.A.C. license, she began to put it together. He was Johnny Burell. The person the Webb County Sheriffs were talking about back at the ranch a couple of weeks earlier.

Sally sat silent but a little uneasy, to say the least. He told her how he protected his dad and ended up in a Texas prison for twelve years.  With tears in his eyes, he told her how his mother died while he was behind bars, and he didn’t even say goodbye or tell her he loved her one last time. Sally had tears rolling down her cheeks when he told her how his Dad left the van and some money before he died of lung cancer a few years later.

“Did he smoke?” she asked with a crying sniffle.

“Like a chimney!” Junior said.

“Was he a Cub’s fan?” Sally asked. In Chicago, if your father was a Cub’s fan then you probably were too. If your father was a democrat then you probably were one too. That’s just the way it was.

Junior didn’t answer and continued his story. He told her about how he met Steve Carthage Junior, and how the two of them started to have a friendship. How it was a big deal for him and how he never really had a friend. When he got to the part about the scorpions, Sally’s jaw dropped. He told her how her brother Herb called and how he answered  Junior's phone. When he told her about how the coyotes ate Junior's hands and face, she felt a little vomit in her throat. Cheese Danish vomit.

He told her how he staged the crash that killed Johnny Burell. He told her how attracted he was to her the moment he saw her. She knew the part about the new driver's license and a new identity. She was a part of it. `I thought the eyes didn’t match’ she said to herself as Junior continued his story. When he got to the part about finding the money, he thought Sally might faint.

“Four and a half million dollars in the walls?” She exclaimed. She once again locked her lips anxious to hear more.

Now came the tricky part. He had to tell her about Carlos Cruz and how his actions caused the death of Miguel Rivera, Sally’s friend, Angela’s husband, and the father of three little boys. The talk went on for at least a couple of hours. Junior told the story in great detail. He couldn’t hide the tears of remorse when he talked about the Rivera family. He then told Sally about Willy Brown.

“He’s not a nice guy,” Junior started. He told her about how he saved Willy’s life because the same rape attempts happened to him, and how he wasn’t always able to fight them off. He told her everything and more.

When he finished, Sally sat silent. Junior went to the hotel room safe and pulled out a fist full of hundred dollar bills

“I have to go,” Junior said. “I have to get away from Willy, and I can't go back to Laredo. I wouldn’t blame you if you hate me but please don’t call the police. I can’t go back to prison.” He peeled off a bunch of Ben Franklins and put the cash on the dresser.

“Heres a few thousand dollars, The room is paid for a couple of more days. That should be enough to get you back home. I’m sorry for everything.” He pulled out his duffle bag and began to pack. Sally sat silent.

 

Episode IV

“If I now know the truth, what compromise does Willy Brown have on you?” Sally asked out of nowhere. “And why do you have to leave?” She was trying to process everything Junior had just told her but didn’t want him to go.

“You don’t want to kill me?” Junior asked, “what about Miguel?”

“No,” Sally answered, “I told you I know your heart and soul. You never hurt anyone on purpose. The Cruz cartel has left bodies all over the border cities in Texas for years. They are ruthless murderers. You can’t blame yourself. Is that why you left the ranch to Angela and the kids?”

“It wasn’t really mine,” Junior said. This time Sally understood.

Sally continued, “I don’t care if your name is Junior or Johnny or Aunt Jemima, I love you.”  Junior never heard sweeter words.

“So what about Willy, how can he hurt you?” Sally asked

“If I don’t do what he wants he can tell the authorities I’m running some kind of a scam. One fingerprint could make me have a lot of explaining to do. Believe me, I know this guy he won’t just let this go,” Junior informed her.

“Set up a meeting with him at the same bar from last night,” Sally instructed. “I’ll talk to him.”

“I don’t want you to get involved in this,” said Junior, rejecting her idea.

“I’m already involved, I’m with you. Trust me, can you do that?” Sally said unpacking his duffle bag.

"Not sure," Junior said.

“Sure. Sure. Not sure, It’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get you to talk. You said more in the last few hours than you did in the last few weeks.” Sally said.

“The doctors in prison said I was on something called an Autistic spectrum. Not sure what that meant, but I do know that I love you too.”

Sally felt ashamed for saying that. She hugged him as if she would never let him go. “Now call Willy and tell him to meet you at seven. No, make it six, I’m getting hungry.

“Sure,” Junior said.

“Did the Cubs win last night?” Sally asked

“Not sure,” he replied.

“Should I call you Junior or Johnny?” Sally asked.

“Junior,” Junior answered. That was the name on the bank accounts.

“Okay Junior any ideas on how to kill some time till dinner?” Sally asked biting his upper lip.

They laid in bed for a couple of hours with Sally asking hundreds of questions, and Junior feeling great about answering them truthfully. Telling the truth was much easier than living a lie. Mom was right again.

Junior and Willy sat in a booth off to the side of the bar. They were only there for a minute when they saw Sally walking in. Willy always sat facing the door. Survival instincts. Sally sat down next to Junior and kissed him on the cheek.

“Hi, you must be Willy Brown,” she said, reaching out her hand to shake. “Johnny tells me you guys spent some time together in prison,” she added in a low volume voice.

Willy sat silent. He glanced at Junior a couple of times as if to ask ‘what the fuck is this.’

“Johnny honey would you go to the bar and grab us all a drink?” Sally asked standing back up.

“Sure,” Johnny said sliding out of the booth.

“He’s a great guy,” Sally said to Willy as Junior was walking away.

“Yes, he is,” Willy agreed. “I protected him in prison. Anybody messed with the quiet guy, messed with me.

“That was good of you. That was a decent thing to do.” Sally said. “Johnny acted like a decent man also when he risked his life to save a young inmate from getting fucked to death by a bunch of Nazi assholes. Now he’s just trying to be a decent man again. He changed his name hoping to get a fresh start. We’re crazy about each other and we're trying to start a life together. He can’t go back to jail. I understand your predicament and your right, you do stand out like a gangster around all these white folks. But please find someone else to help you. I hope you can be a decent man again and let Johnny have a chance at life. I’ll make him happy and try to erase some of his prison scars,” she reached over and touched the scar over Willy’s eye.

Junior returned with three bottles of beer and set them on the table. “Cheers,” Sally said toasting up her bottle. The two ex-cons raised their bottles and drank. Willy nearly guzzled the whole thing then put the  Bud light on the table.

“I have to bounce,” Willy said. He held out his hand to shake again with Sally. “Miss Sally it’s been a pleasure to meet you,” he flashed his golden smile.

“The pleasure is mine,” Sally replied.

“And you Johnny or Junior or Steve or whatever your name is, show me some love,”  The two men got up and shared a hug. “Have a nice life my brother. You have my number. Anything, anytime, anywhere, just call,” Willy turned and walked out.

“What did you tell him?” Junior asked Sally.

“ I told him I love you,” she said.

 Junior just sat there for at least a minute. “Are we going to have to say this love you thing all the time now?” Junior joked.

“Why do I bother,” Sally said shaking her head and finishing her beer.

Willy Brown eventually did find someone to help him sell drugs in the posh hotels. Unfortunately, it was an undercover cop. He was charged with ‘possession with intent to deliver.’ He was back in prison for strike two. Johnny was right, like father like son.

 

Episode V

The next morning Junior and Sally were having their  morning  coffee poolside.

“I could probably take off a few more days if you still want to visit the Keys,” Sally said, “But I need to get back to work after that.”

Make no mistake about it, Sally liked having a rich lifestyle more than not having a rich lifestyle. Last year she got a little sun from lying in a kiddie blow-up pool in her mother's back yard. Now she’s on-line on a new laptop trying to figure out which five-star hotel in the Florida Keys she wants to stay at and work on her tan lines.

“Do you mind if we stay at a topless beach?” She asked.

“Is that a trick question?” Junior replied. He thought some new surroundings might help him figure out the Cruz Cartel situation. “Any idea’s what to do about Carlos Cruz?”

“No,” Sally said, “but I’m sure we’ll think of something.”  They were sitting with their feet in the water and she gave him a reassuring squeeze of the hand.

“I love you, Sally Johnson,” Junior said squeezing back a little.

“I love you Junior or Johnny or Steve or whatever your name is,” Sally joked.

“Were you serious about the topless beaches?” He had to ask.

 

They both loved the Keys. The ride out on the seven-mile bridge was breathtaking to a city boy like Junior. He liked to walk all around Key West. Sally sometimes joined him, sometimes not. He preferred it when she didn’t. She made friends everywhere she went. Gay men and lesbians loved her. She couldn’t walk a block without having to stop, and of course, hug a new friend. Junior liked to stay clear of strangers. Always did.

He thought the Florida Keys were safe. He worried if a Willy Brown from a Texas prison recognized him, that someone from Chicago might also. He thought the chances were low that someone from his home town would be wearing shorts like these locals were wearing, but you never know. He kept his beard a good but groomed length and wore glasses. They weren’t prescription but darkened in the sun which helped him look more like Steve Carthage Junior. He was so glad that Sally knew the truth but was determined not to let his guard down. Mistakes that’s how you get caught.

While walking alone on one of his strolls, he came across a real estate office. His curiosity made him go in.

“Good morning how can I help you?” a man in khaki’s and a polo shirt asked him from behind a desk. The bell on the door rang again as Junior closed it and sat down.

Time was running out. Sally used up all her vacation time and sick days to stay a week in Key West, but she needed to get home. Junior had to figure out where home was.

They were having dinner on the beach sucking on shrimp and margaritas. They shared a piece of cake for dessert. Junior barely got a couple of bites. The sun was just beginning to set. Sunset in Key West was a party. Yes, every night.  Junior talked Sally into taking a walk. They stopped at a few local bars for a quick shot of tequila then walked arm in arm past some houses along the beach.

“You like this one?” Junior asked. They were standing in front of a pretty two-story house.

“Very nice,” Sally said

“Let’s get closer,” he said opening the gate on the picket fence that surrounded the property.

“That’s trespassing,” Sally said, motioning her arm for Junior to come away.

“It’s okay,” Junior said holding up the keys. Sally didn’t say a word. Junior unlocked the door and the two of them walked into the newly remodeled home.

“What are you thinking Junior. Did you buy this house?” She asked him.

“No. Just rented it. My financial adviser thought that was a better idea. I can’t go back to Laredo right now. I can’t go back to Chicago. There is nothing there for me except a chance to get recognized. I feel safe here. Stay here with me,” he asked Sally.

“I can’t baby. I have to get back to work,” Sally explained. Tears started to build up in her eyes realizing that her newfound love was not going back to Texas with her.

“Take a leave of absence and stay here with me,” Junior suggested.

“I’m not rich, I need to work,” Sally said.

“I’ll pay your wages” Junior countered, trying to talk ‘his’ newfound love into staying.

“I’m not a whore,” she snapped at him. They both sat quietly on the new hardwood floor in the living room of the unfurnished house.

“I would never think that,” Junior said to break the silence. “If you know my heart, you know that.”

“I know,” Sally said. She reached over and kissed him.”

“So you’ll stay?” Junior asked looking for a commitment.

“My job might not be there when I get back,” Sally said, listing the cons.

“So,” Junior answered. She had nothing to say about that. That may actually be a pro. She didn’t exactly love her job at the D.M.V. and often considered finding a new one.

“My family. Who will take care of my mom?” She asked.

“My financial advisor is your brother Herb. He loves the idea and will keep an eye on your mom.” When Herb and Junior talked they kind of anticipated that question.

 “Besides your mother takes care of the whole village. I’m sure she could look after herself,” Junior said remembering the hundreds of people that she hosted at Easter.  “And your family could visit. The kids would love the beach.” Herb had two pre-teen girls.

The more Junior made his case, the more Sally realized it was doable. In the middle of trying to convince her,  Sally reached over and gave him the softest sweetest kiss imaginable.

“I would love to stay with you,” she said.

Junior was busting with joy. “How do I pay you, weekly, monthly, yearly?” He wasn’t sure how a steady paycheck worked. His dad Charlie had one, but he never did.

“Bi-weekly,” Sally said, confusing him even more. “And I’m due for a raise,” she half-joked.

“I need to evaluate performance before I could give you a raise,” Junior said trying to unbutton her jean shorts and find a comfortable position on the hard floor.

“Let me help you with that,” Sally said with a smile.

 

Sally explained things to her mother the best she could. The secret that she shared with Junior about the switch of identity was one that she knew she must take to her grave. Not only was her mother Helen thrilled for her baby girl’s happiness, but she could vacation in a home on the beach for free. Helen asked about top-less beaches. Like mother like daughter.

Junior and Sally bought a mattress and moved in. They added furniture as they went along. They found the nicest antiques at little shops across the Keys. One day while browsing in Key Largo, Sally was looking at a baby crib.

This might look nice in the small bedroom,” Sally said. She had a gleam in her eye that Junior would never forget. He held her so tight she had to use a little force to break free.

They had a beautiful baby boy. They named him Charles Johnson Carthage. ‘Charlie Carthage.’ Had a nice ring to it they both agreed.

 

Episode VI

Days disappeared into months into years.

A black man became President of The United States. The country was in the middle of two wars, and sinking into a great recession with the economy going down the toilet.

Junior’s financial adviser told him he was still rich, just not  ‘as’ rich. Junior thought it was time to earn some money. He loved being home and raising his children with Sally, but the kids were now in school all day. Two years after Charlie was born they had a baby girl. Lisa Marie Carthage. She was the apple of her father's eye. She had her daddy wrapped around her little finger. Like mother like daughter.

“What are you going to do, advertise Heating and Air Conditioning in the local paper?” Sally asked. She listened to and loved every bit of his past life.

“Not sure. I’m bored with the kids in school,” he answered. “Maybe I’ll try real estate.” The country was in a housing crisis. People’s homes were being foreclosed at record rates. There could not have been a worse time to become a realtor.

“That sounds good honey,” Sally encouraged. The truth was Junior was starting to drive her a little crazy around the house. The kids were more of a buffer than she realized. He seemed to talk more than she recalled. “How much school is involved?” she asked.

“School?” Junior asked. He had bad memories of school.

“Yes. You have to pass a test to get your license,” she informed him.

“I can’t just buy one?” he asked. Sally didn’t answer.

Junior went to school, got his license, and bought the real estate office in the neighborhood. The same one that found him his current rental. The seller of the business couldn’t believe that someone actually wanted to buy it.

“I haven’t had any clients in months,” the owner said being completely honest with Junior. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Sure,” stated Junior. Steve Carthage Junior now owned a real estate business. He was now the man wearing the khaki pants and polo shirt. He renamed the business Rivera Realty. Sally didn’t ask why. She knew he always felt remorse and responsibility for Miguel Rivera’s death.

Sally said she would work for him doing the bookkeeping and such. He agreed since he was still giving her a check bi-weekly for the last eight years. She told him to stop, but he insisted. “A deal is a deal,” he would say sounding like his father more and more the older he got. She would just deposit the check into their joint account.

Sally was glad to see him leave the house every morning with a sense of purpose. It was going to be good for Junior. He needed to get out of his picket fence/solitary confinement/secure stoop, state of mind.

Sally would go back to Laredo now and then to visit her family. She only missed Easter once over the years. Little Charlie had a double ear infection, and Sally wouldn’t leave him. Sally’s mom, Helen, would travel to the Keys a couple of times a year. The kids adored her and so did Junior. She spent a month to help out with the birth of each child. Junior offered to pay her for her help. Helen Johnson only had to give him one dirty look, and he never asked again. The saying goes ‘if you want to picture a girl in thirty years, look at her mother.’ Junior had no problem with that. Sally’s mom was a beautiful, kind, loving person.

 At Easter Sally would make excuses for Junior not being with his family. She always wished he could be there, but understood why he couldn’t. Carlos Cruz and ‘his’ family. She loved seeing her old friends and would always catch up with Angela and the kids. Angela remarried a couple of years after  Miguel was murdered. The death was ruled an accident and Angela never doubted it. She chalked it up to being at the wrong place at the wrong time. She was a cop, she saw a lot of that. She went on to make a life of joy for her and her kids. Surely what Miguel would have wanted. ‘Good for her’ Junior would think to himself when Sally would give him yearly updates. Angela married an EMT from the area, Eric Gold. He had a couple of kids of his own. The ranch was plenty big enough to raise them all.

The real estate business was really slow, but Junior would open the doors at 10 a.m. every morning. He was always there by 9:45. He spent his days finding properties in foreclosure. There were some incredible opportunities for people with cash to buy up beautiful homes extremely cheap. With banks making home loans very difficult to obtain, cash was king. Junior had enough to buy a few, and then a few more properties including the rental he was living in.

“You can’t resell them,” Sally said questioning his reason for buying real estate. “Banks are not giving loans.”

“I’ll rent them,” Junior replied, “The people who are walking away from their mortgages still need somewhere to live. I could rent them cheap and still have a positive cash flow until the market turns around.” That was something he heard from Herb the banker. Herb also got creative with financing and looked out for Juniors and his sister's best interest.

“Says the real estate agent,” Sally said smiling at him. She was so proud of the man he was. She was right, he had a good heart and a good soul.

“I can’t help myself,” he said. Sally remembered her friend Miguel.

Sally was always busy either taking care of the house or the business. Junior spent a lot of time doing the maintenance and repairs on his rental properties. He would try to fix it, make it worse, and call a professional to fix it all.

“Just call an expert first. It’s cheaper,” Sally would tell him. Her words were falling on deaf ears.

So Sally kept the books on all the money coming in and all the money going out.

With the kids in school and Junior keeping busy, Sally decided to go to Easter at her mom’s house by herself. She usually took the kids along. She loved to show them off but their spring break was a week later that year. Junior could make his own hours at the office and did just that to make sure the kids got off to school, and he was there when they got home.

When Sally got back the kids were so excited to see her. They loved their daddy but were tired of pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches. ‘Mommy makes it better’ he heard at every meal. After hugging the kids, Sally put a kiss on Junior that ended with a smack.

“I missed you too,” Junior said diving back in for another. He loved kissing her. He always did.

After Sally fixed the kids a healthy snack, she and Junior sat in the backyard watching the children play.

“I’ve got some very interesting news,” Sally said with excitement in her voice. “The Cruz family is out. The D.E.A. made major arrests of all the top guys. A lot of his soldiers got killed during the raids. The Santiago cartel saw weakness and took over the Cruz family territory. It was a hostile takeover with hundreds of dead bodies on both sides of the border.”

“Carlos Cruz?”Junior asked, hoping the answer was ‘dead.’

“Prison in Texas, hopefully for life,” Sally answered. “This means we can go home,” she added.

“This is my home,” Junior replied.

Sally was always homesick when she got back from a visit. She loved her life in Key West but her Laredo, Texas community was her comfort zone. Usually a couple of days on the beach, and she was over it.

“How’s Angela and the kids doing?” he asked her.

“You mean Inspector Angela Gold?” Sally asked. Angela was promoted again by the Webb County Sherriff's department, “She’s good. She cried a little when I told her you named your business Rivera Realty. The kids are good and her new husband is such a nice guy. You would like him,” Sally said. ‘I doubt it,’ Junior thought. He was reluctant to make friends. He never really had any as a kid and the two he thought might become his friends, Steve Carthage Junior and Miguel Rivera, were dead because of him. He waived at the neighbors but thought it safer for them not to get close.

“You want me to sell all the properties and move back to Texas?” Junior asked her praying she would say no.

“This is our home,” she said, watching the kids play tag in the yard. “Besides we would lose our asses. The housing market is still shit.”

“Patience is a virtue,” Junior said sounding like his mother. “Hey Charlie go grab the gloves,” he told his son. The family played a little pickle before dinner. Junior and Sally enjoyed some alone time after the kids went to bed. She loved kissing him. She always did.

 

Episode VII

In 2012 that same man got re-elected President. Patience was indeed showing virtue. The economy was on an almost four-year upswing. Slow but sure. According to Sally, the rents were too cheap on the properties that Junior owned. “And those beach bums need to be put out,” she would say every time she was balancing the books.

During the deep recession of 08 and 09, Junior was very lenient with his tenants. “People are having hard times. I can’t put them on the streets,” he would tell Sally. With the economy picking up and people getting back to work, Sally grew tired of the tenants giving Junior stories instead of the rent.

 “We need extra income because we need to hire a maintenance company,”  Sally tried explaining. “You're up to sixteen properties honey and we can’t keep up.” The kids offer, but they’re twelve and ten and not much help at all.

“Hey Dad, I’ll cut the lawn for ten bucks,” Charlie would ask his father when he needed some McDonald’s money.

‘I’ll give you twenty not to cut it’ Junior would think to himself. Junior was particular about how he wanted a lawn cut, and Charlie cut it like a twelve-year-old.

“Next time,” Junior would say hoping  Charlie would quit asking. He would give his son ten bucks anyway. Charlie knew it was coming. His dad was a soft touch.

‘Junior, Junior, Junior,” Sally finally got his attention. “Are you even listening to me? We need to hire some people.”

“Sure. I hear you,” he answered looking up from the ball game.

 

“Rivera Realty how may I help you?” Junior answered the phone, always the professional.

“Hello my brother from another mother,” said the voice on the other end. Junior knew immediately who it was. He pulled his cell-phone away from his ear to check caller I.D. As suspected, Willy Brown. It was one of the only contacts on his phone. Junior stood silent.

“It’s me, Willy Brown. Are you there Johnny?” he asked.

“This is Steve Carthage Junior. How are you, Willy Brown?” Junior asked.

“I’m fine and I’m free. I’m in Florida and I’m looking for honest work. I thought if you were still in Miami and knew someone looking to hire you might help a brother out. I’ve changed my ways. I’m a minister now Junior. Listen if you can’t help that’s fine. I’ll delete your number if you want and you’ll never hear from me again. But I’m a different person now,” Willy explained. Junior knew something about being a different person.

“Can you come to Key West for an interview?” Junior asked.

“Yes. I can take the ferry day after tomorrow,” Willy said with a ton of hope in his voice. Willy had family in South Florida and spent a lot of time there growing up. He knew his way around.

“Okay, see you tomorrow at Rivera Realty,” Junior said.

“Realty?” Willy asked, “You know I only have prison skills.”

“I’ll text you the address,” Junior said

“Thank you so much brother,” Willy said.

“Sure,” Junior replied hanging up the phone. He wasn’t sure this was the help Sally was thinking of.

 

“We could use the help,” Sally said when Junior floated the idea of hiring Willy by her. “Do you trust him?”

“Not sure,” Junior answered honestly. “I want to,” he added.

“Well let’s interview him and see how it goes,” Sally suggested.

“Okay. But we tell him nothing about us. Our kids, our house, our life, are on a need to know basis,” Junior insisted. “He said he’s a minister. Can you imagine that?” he asked.

“I can see that,” Sally replied. She always seemed to see the good in everybody. That was one of the reasons he fell in love with her. And one of the reasons she fell in love with him.

The next morning with the kids in school, Junior and Sally sat in the realty office with their noses in the computer looking at foreclosures to acquire. They looked up when they heard the bell on the door ring as Willy Brown walked in.

“Hey brother show me some love,” Willy said to Junior holding out his arms. Junior got out of his chair and Willy hugged him like a bear. Junior liked it. Willy spent a lot of time in the prison yard lifting free weights during his last stretch. ‘Pressing and preaching’ he would joke.

“Hello Willy Brown,” Sally said holding out her hand to shake.

“I’m in a hugging mood, Miss Sally.” He was a little more gentle with her.

“Who’s Rivera?” Willy asked, putting Sally back on her feet.

“Some Spanish guy,” Junior answered keeping his life private.

“Thanks captain obvious,” Willy replied.

“So you’re a minister?” Sally asked, moving on to another subject.

“Yes, mam. I found God and changed my ways to serve his blessings. Yes, I know what your thinking. You and a million other prisoners. Ain't that right my brother?” Willy asked.

“Yes,” Junior answered immediately.

“Everyone deserves a second chance don’t you think? Well in my case a third or fourth chance,” Willy said with a hearty laugh.

Junior knew that he wouldn’t be where he was without some extra chances.

“What’s your five-year plan?” Junior asked. It was a question he saw when he googled ‘what questions to ask on an interview.’

“Now don’t laugh you two, but I hope someday to have my own ministry and Shepard over a flock,” Willy said.

“I think that’s sweet,” Sally said. “We are Rivera realty. Well, Junior is.” Sally forgot the need to know basis rule.

“WE are,” Junior interrupted. Sally gave him a wink. That always warmed his heart.

“We need somebody to do general maintenance and upkeep for about sixteen rental properties here in the Keys,” Sally said, explaining some of the duties required with the job.

“Son of a biscuit!’ Willy exclaimed. He tried hard to clean up his prison language. “Sixteen houses in the Keys. Who are you, Donald Trump?”

 “I wish,” Junior joked back not knowing one day he would regret saying that.

“To tell you the truth guys, I can’t do much more than change a lightbulb but I’m a fast learner. I could make sure the people you hire get the job done and patrol your properties making sure the renters aren’t destroying things. I’m sure there’s plenty I can do to earn my keep.

“Can you collect the rent?” Sally asked.

“Now baby you know some of those people are having hard times,” Junior said.

“Some of our renters are beach bums. They pay the rent for a couple of months and then nothing. Trying to evict them is a nightmare,” Sally brought Willy up to speed.

“How can I help you?” Willy asked, “Should I tell them about the Lord’s everlasting love and how he will provide?”

“No, I want you to stand there looking like a gangster. I’ll tell them to pay the rent, leave, or deal with you. Those white boys will piss their pants,” Sally laughed. Junior and Willy were laughing so hard they could hardly breathe.

“I can do that,” Willy said.

“Good you’re hired, if that’s okay with you honey,” Sally said.

 “Sure,” Junior said wiping a laughter tear.

 

Episode VIII

A few of Junior's rentals were empty. Part of Willy’s pay was free housing. There was an empty little two-bedroom that was perfect for a maintenance/security man. There was a big yard and oversized garage with the property. The previous owner was a car collector and when the housing market crashed he just took his toys and left. Junior bought it for a steal. They sat in the truck in front of the house.

“How can I ever repay you, my brother?” Willy asked.

“This town could use another church. A giant tent connected to that garage, some chairs, and a preacher like yourself…” Junior let Willy put the dots together

“You think people would come to hear me preach?” Willy asked.

“Sure,” Junior answered. “Sally, me and the kids will be there.”

“Kids? How many kids you have?” Willy asked. He was surprised this was the first he was hearing of this.

“Two, a boy and a girl. They know nothing about my past as Johnny Burell the ex-con and we need to keep it that way. Understood?”Junior said like a boss to an employee. Junior couldn’t believe he just talked to Willy like that. This was a man who was feared by some of the most violent men in Tatum Prison.

“How’s your dad?” Junior tried to quickly change the subject.

“He’s fine. Tough old bird. He’s in his sixties and still running the prison system. Your secret is safe with me Steve Carthage Junior.  I’ll prove to you I’m not the man I once was. As for my father, God forgive him, he is who he is.

They got out of the pick-up and started to walk the property.

“That could work as a chapel,” Willy said. Junior could see the wheels turning in Reverend Brown's head. “And with a tent, that could hold a bunch of people. I’ll have to save some money to buy a few things, but this could work.”

“So I’ll pay you five hundred dollars a week plus free housing,” Junior said confirming their previous agreement. “Here’s your first week in advance.” Junior counted out five one hundred dollar bills. Sally told him to write checks for everything. It was easier bookkeeping, but Junior loved peeling off c-notes.

 Junior opened the door to the ranch house and handed the keys to Willy. “It needs some updating, but it’s very clean and cozy,” Junior said. “It comes partially furnished and the appliances are like new. The sheets are new and it’s cable ready. Sorry, the previous owner didn’t leave a T.V.

“You sound like a realtor,” Willy said.

“There's a grocery store around the corner. I left you a radio to use for a while but I want it back,” Junior said. It was the same radio that the real Steve Carthage Junior gave to a homeless broke-ass ex-con named Johnny Burell. It had sentimental value.

“No problem. Thanks, boss,’ Willy said.

“I’ll be back tomorrow to show you around town,” Junior said putting out his hand to shake goodbye.

“A shake won’t do brother,” Willy said, giving Junior another bear hug.

 

After touring the island and properties the next day, Junior and Willy pulled up to Rivera Realty. Willy did the driving. Sally was in the office while the boys were out and about.

“How do you like Key West?” Sally asked Willy when the bell on the door stopped making noise.

“Just lovely Miss Sally. I’m from South Florida, but the Keys are just perfect. And your properties are beautiful,” Junior answered.

“Are you up for the job?” She asked.

“Yes mam, you won’t be sorry for giving me a chance,” Willy said.

“I’m sure I won’t,” Sally told him with a squeeze of the hand.

Willy tried to give the truck keys to Junior.

It was the same F-150 that Steve Carthage Junior bought in California about twelve years ago. It seemed more like a lifetime than twelve years.

“You keep them. That’s the company truck. You're responsible for it..” The truck had Rivera Realty signs on the doors. “We’ll reimburse you for gas and maintenance,” Junior instructed.

“Keep all the receipts,” added Sally the bookkeeper.

“It’s a good truck,” Junior said. He was looking deep into Sally’s eyes when he said it. She knew the look. He was thinking about all the sex they had in that truck thru the years. Sally winked.

Junior had his eye on a Chevy Avalanche. “It’s an S.U.V. and a pick-up truck,” he told Sally the CFO trying to justify the pricey vehicle. “and it has a big back seat.” Sally knew what he meant.

“Thanks, boss,” Willy said “I’ll take good care of it. Now if you don’t need me for anything else, I’m going to get home and start building a ministry.”

“Do you need any help?” Junior asked enthusiastically. Sally was standing behind him shaking her head no at Willy. Junior's help might lead to delays. He knew H.V.A.C. but outside of that, he guessed a lot.

“No thanks, I’ll try it myself to start,” Willy said, heeding Sally’s warnings.

“How long until the first sermon Reverend?” Sally asked Willy.

“Sooner than you think,” Reverend Brown answered. It sounded like he had a plan and the energy to implement it.

 

 Willy and Junior were spending some time together on different projects. Fixing fences, repairing windows and screen, watering lawns, and changing exterior light bulbs.

 After a week or so, Sally invited Willy to Sunday dinner. The kids liked Willy right away. Willy kept the conversation with them about current events. He remembered what Junior told him about not bringing up the past.

“Are you a Marlins fan?” Willy asked Charlie. They were playing catch in the yard.

“Yes I am,” Charlie said. “My Dad is a Cub’s fan. They suck. They haven't won in like a hundred years.

“Watch your language!” Junior shouted. He was sitting on the deck watching them play. Willy wasn’t sure if Junior was scolding Charlie for saying ‘Suck’ or Cub’s suck.

“How do you know my Daddy?” little Lisa Marie asked. She was sitting in her dad’s lap playing horsey. That was her favorite seat. Junior froze. The horse stopped bucking.

“We met at church many years ago,” Willy answered. Sally was coming out of the back door from the kitchen with some chips and dip.

“Mister Willy is trying to open his own church. He lives in the green house and is going to make a church in his backyard. The kids knew the properties by colors. The Keys had very colorful homes. Junior tried to describe them to the kids as a Cape-Cod or a Craftsman or Victorian, but the kids understood colors much better.

“The one with the big garage?”Lisa asked

“Mister Willy, can we help you?” Charlie asked. He sat down on his father's other leg.

 Junior and Sally were both shaking their heads NO to Willy.

“Of course you can. God bless you for volunteering,” Willy said. The kids jumped off daddy’s lap and started walking in the yard with Willy, as he explained his vision of the ministry to them.

 

Wouldn’t you know it, the first sermon from Reverend Willy Brown came a couple of weeks later. He did a great job of converting the property. He got the permits he needed, did some painting, and built a little stage to preach from. He found some stained glass at a little shop in Key Largo that worked well into the décor. He bought a bunch of folding chairs and as a gift, Junior and Sally donated all the chair covers. It looked like he could do a lot more than change a light bulb.

People were starting to know the property by word of mouth. Willy set up some cabinets on the edge of his front lawn. He got them from a remodel that was going on in one of the rentals. Waste not want not. He painted a sign and put it next to the cabinet. FOOD DRIVE LEAVE A CAN, TAKE A CAN. It caught on quickly. Hungry people could get something to eat and people that were blessed were sharing with those less fortunate.

Besides Junior and his family, there were about twenty other people there to worship on opening day. Reverend Willy Brown’s first sermon was about second chances.

 

Episode IX

Over the next year as the ministry grew, so did the food donations. Sally and the kids would stop by Willy’s place to help sort the food, and get it ready to redistribute to the hungry. Also as the ministry grew, so did the cash donations. Willy was able to buy tents, chairs, and tables to keep up with the expansion.

“Soon I won't need you to pay me anymore,” Willy told Junior.

“A deal is a deal,” Junior told him. He was genuinely happy for Willy. The five hundred a week (by check) was no big deal. Sally raised the rents and with Willy’s presence was able to collect them on time. Positive cash flow grew and so did all the property value. ‘ You’re richer than ever’ Herbert  Johnson the banker would tell him. Herb had a way of simplifying things for Junior during their financial updates.

Things were growing so quickly for Reverend Willy Brown, that Junior bought the vacant lot next door to the preacher's makeshift ministry. Willy was starting to use his home to store food donations. He was running out of living space quickly. Like Junior, he was happy in one room with his own toilet and shower. He felt blessed. Must have been a prison thing. They both appreciated the little things after so many years of incarceration.

“You bought a vacant lot with no rental income?” Sally asked Junior. She was a great bookkeeper and wasting money was not acceptable.

“Willy needs room for more parking. People are coming in from all over to see him. And the food drive is doing well. So a little more space is good. Besides my financial advisor say’s we’re doing better than ever,” Junior reasoned.

“Not for long if you keep buying parking spaces,” Sally mumbled being purposely loud enough for Junior to hear. “And you can call your financial advisor Herb. He is my brother you know.” Junior didn’t answer. He left to tell Willy the news. The two became close over time. Well, as close as Junior would let anyone get.

 “Do you believe in heaven?” Junior asked him after telling him the news about the expansion of land. Willy, being a minister, didn’t even answer. He just gave Junior a ‘duh’ look.

 “Of course you do duh,” Junior said. “Do you have to confess your sins before you get in?” Junior redirected his question.

“You know I’m not a priest. I don’t do confessions, but if there's something on your mind my brother you could lay your burden down on me,” the preacher said.

They walked into the house and moved some canned goods so they could sit at the kitchen table.

“You know why I changed my name from Johnny Burell to Steve Carthage Junior?” he asked Willy.

“For a fresh start. New name new start is the way I recall Miss Sally telling me back in Miami many years ago,”

“Well there’s a lot more to it than that,” Junior explained. He went on to tell Willy everything from beginning to end. As usual, he told his story in great detail.

“Do you think I’m going to hell?” Junior asked Willy when he finished. Willy was sitting with his mouth open in disbelieve over what he just heard. The same look Sally had when Junior told her the same story.

“For what?” Willy finally answered as he tried to wrap his head around what Junior told him.

“The dead people I leave in my path,” Junior said.

 “Those were just some unfortunate accidents. And that Carlos Cruz character is a killer, not you. Oh no Junior you are a good man and God blessed me to have you as a friend,” Reverend Willy continued, “look at all we're doing for our community,” he said pointing at all the food. “Oh, no Junior you’re an angel, not a devil.”

 

With the housing market slowly growing, and the Reverend having less time to help, Junior decided to hire a realtor to work in the office. He knew that people skills had a lot to do with success in the realty business. Junior also knew he lacked some of those skills. He put a help wanted sign in his window.

 Junior heard the Rivera Realty door open at 10:00 a.m. sharp. He was already on his second cup of coffee.

“Hello are you open?” a young man said walking in the door and looking up at the bell.

“Yes 10:00 a.m.” Junior said as both men looked at the time. Junior looked at his watch and the young man his phone.

“Are you Steve Carthage?” the man asked.

“Yes, I am. Are you here about the job?” Junior asked. “You look young. Are you a realtor?” The man looked about twenty years old wearing a long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the collar.

“No,” the man answered “my name is Billy Anderson. I believe we’re cousins. My daddy was Bill Carthage. Your Uncle Bill.

Junior stood silent. He thought ‘no your real cousin was stung to death by scorpions.’ He could see the Carthage family resemblance in the young man’s face.

Bill Carthage in his drunkenness had a brief relationship with a married woman. He broke it off when he found out she was married. Not exactly when he found out. He slept with her a couple more times first. Men are dogs. He never knew that she was pregnant with his baby. Tracy Anderson let her husband believe that the child was his, and raised the baby without anyone ever knowing the better. They named the baby Billy because they liked the name. At least that was the story she told the man she was married to.

When Billy Anderson turned twenty-one years old his mother told him the truth. Hank Anderson, the man who raised Billy, had died two years earlier from a drug overdose. Opioids were the drug of the month.

 “Your real Daddy died,” she told him, “But your biological father is Bill Carthage. I didn’t know I was pregnant went I met your daddy,” she lied to him to save her character, “so I never told him. I went out with Bill Carthage just briefly before I met your daddy.” she continued with the lie. “Bill knew nothing about you. I just thought you should know. He died a long time ago. I remember he had some land near the border.” The Anderson’s lived in a commune type of village on the other side of the county. Tracy Anderson didn’t know much about what went on outside her drug-filled world and her next high.

 

“How may I help you?” Junior asked afraid to say anything else. It had been years since Junior had to remember Steve Carthage Junior’s family history, and didn’t want to say anything to expose himself as a fraud.

“Well cousin Stevie, I should have inherited my father's estate, being next of kin,” Billy said.

“Uncle Bill didn’t have any kids,” Junior said remembering quickly the past life he never had.

“None that he knew of,” young Billy replied.

After a few long seconds of intense anxiety, Junior said, “I have to go show a house. Can I meet you back here tonight at about 8:00? I’ll have time to talk then.”

“Okay, see you then cousin Steve,” Billy said.

“Okay see you then Billy Anderson,” Junior said walking Billy out the door and locking it behind them. Junior watched Billy drive off in a ten-year-old honda civic with Texas license plates. Junior went straight home to talk to Sally.

“I knew of an Anderson Family. They lived outside of town with a militia type crowd. Big family. I think they sold meth. Rumors were they made their own. Real white trash. What did he want?” Sally asked

“Not sure,” Junior said.

“Could this be trouble honey?” Sally asked a little worried.

“Not sure,” Junior said. When Junior got anxious he became more Johnny like.

“We’ll think of something,” Sally tried to comfort Junior realizing his anxiety was getting the better of him. “ Since you’re home and the kids are in school…” Sally said in a sexy voice that Junior never got tired of hearing. She didn’t have to say more.

 

Sally convinced Junior to bring Willy Brown with them to meet Billy Anderson. The three of them were sitting in the office when Billy walked in smelling like booze.

“Holy shit you see all those fags drinking to the sunset. What a crazy town,” Billy said.

“These are my associates,” Junior told Billy explaining the presence of Sally and Willy. Need to know basis rule was in effect. “Now how can I help you?” he asked.

“Well like I said cuz, I came for my inheritance. That Carthage ranch should have been mine, not yours,” Billy said.

“That ranch was donated to a widow and her children over twelve years ago,” Sally interjected like a lawyer.

“Wasn’t yours to donate,” countered Billy. He had a tone in his voice that was annoying Willy Brown.

“I’m sure there’s a statute of limitation law involved,” Sally said trying to dismiss this whole thing.

“I’m sure we could settle this out of court,” Billy said.

“Are you trying to shake down this good family?” Willy said standing to his feet. Willy Brown was a big man.

“Easy, easy,” Junior said stepping in between Willy and Billy. “Willy why don’t you wait outside,” Junior suggested trying to de-escalate the situation. Willy took a step towards the door.

 “That’s right nigger, outside, and take that bitch with you,” Billy said

Junior picked up Billy by the shirt collar, much like the F.B.I. agent grabbed his father Charlie so many episodes ago. The shirt tore off in his hands as he threw Billy Anderson across the room. Much like the football ripping in Steve Carthage Junior's hands, and the contents flying out.

Billy smacked his head on the bottom of the door. He lay there moaning and rubbing his head when Willy Brown saw all the tattoos. Swaztika’s, Arian Nation, and White Power ink all over his body. Willy Brown went into prison mode. He grabbed the skinny Nazi by his throat and started pounding his head into the door. Each time he slammed it the bell on the top of the door rang. Bam ring. Bam ring. Bam ring.

Sally and Junior stood frozen. A part of them wanted this piece of shit dead. He was a threat to everything. Bam ring. Bam ring.

Willy stopped and was breathing hard with Billy’s limp head in his hands. He reached up and turned the sign on the door to closed. Junior turned off the lights. They sat there in the dark a few minutes before someone spoke.

.“What now?” Sally asked.

"Not sure," Junior said 

 

Episode X

“Not sure,” Willy said, “but Junior and I will figure it out. You need to get out of here Miss Sally. You were never here and know nothing about this understood?” he asked her.

Sally looked at Junior.

“He’s right. Go home to the kids. We got this,” Junior said squeezing her hand. He was trying to get her to relax. She was visibly shaking. She left out the back door and walked the few blocks home.

“Unfortunately this is not the first body I’ve had to dispose of,” Willy said as the two of them were wrapping Billy Anderson's corpse in some old curtains that were in the back room. Willy pulled the Rivera Realty pick-up around to the rear door of the office.  When it got a little darker outside, they loaded the body and covered it with yard style ‘For Sale’ signs. They had plenty of them.

“I’ll take care of this brother,” Willy told Junior, “Clean up the mess with bleach,” said the ex-con knowing his way around a crime scene. There wasn’t much blood. Willy’s powerful hands crushed the kid's skull and snapped his neck like a chicken. “We better think up a story in case someone comes looking for this guy.” Willy drove off into the darkness.

As instructed Junior cleaned the office thoroughly. He got home late and kissed his sleeping kids. He put his clothes and shoes in a plastic bag and showered. Sally was awake in bed waiting for him. They held each other all night without saying a word.

The next morning Junior went to Willy’s house as soon as the sun rose. He got rid of the bleachy bag of clothes along the way.

“I’m so sorry this happened Junior,” Willy said handing Junior a cup of coffee.  He sounded more like Reverend Brown than he did the night before. “When I saw all those tattoos I  flashed back and it was my turn to protect you from that evil. God forgive me.”

“What did you do with the body?” Junior asked getting right to the point.

“Gators.” Willy answered, “They don’t leave much. Did you clean up the office?”

“Yes,” Junior replied. “I.D.’s and wallet?” He asked back.

“Bottom of the everglades,” Willy answered.

“Shit did you get his keys? He had an old car that must be parked somewhere around the office,” asked Junior.

Willy held up two keys hanging from a confederate flag key chain.

“Help me clean the work truck and we’ll go look for his car. We’ll leave it near where I put the body in the water. Those waters are filled with rival gang members. If parts of him ever surface, he was just another white trash drug dealer that got himself killed in a deal gone bad. Nobody would care. I think we're okay,” Willy said trying to convince Junior and himself they got away with murder.

 “Did you destroy his cellphone?” Junior asked trying to cover all bases.

“I thought you had it,” Willy replied a little worried.

“Mistakes that’s how you get caught,” Junior said. Those same words he thought to himself when trying to get away with his identity switch.

“Don’t panic,” Willy said, “are you sure he had one?” he asked.

“Sure,” Junior replied. Saying don’t panic made Junior start to panic.

“Let’s go find his car. Maybe the phone is in it,” Willy Brown suggested “I’m hungry. You think Miss Sally would cook us up some breakfast. We need to all be on the same page about this in case someone comes snooping.

“Sure, let’s wait till the kids leave for school,” Junior said holding up his cup looking for a refill of coffee.

 

When  Junior and Willy walked into the kitchen, Sally was pouring herself some coffee.

“Would you like a cup?” she asked Willy

“No thank you. I’ve had enough. The way I see it, this was all my doing. This kid's death is 100% my responsibility.” the Reverend Willy Brown said getting right to the point.

“You were just protecting your flock from the wolf,” Sally told him with a squeeze of the hand.

“No, no Miss Sally there is no getting around the fact that I took the life of one of God’s children with my bare hands. But to be honest with you folks there is a part of me that feels no remorse. That little Nazi bastard would do a lot of harm to a lot of people before his life was over.

“The world needs shepherds,” Junior said.

“Like I said before, what now? Sally asked.

“Just live life like it never happened,” Willy said. “If anyone asks we know nothing bout nothing.” He sounded more like a convict than a minister.

“What did you do with the body?” Sally asked.

“The less you know the better,” Junior said, “we have to go.”

“Where are you going?” Sally asked. Junior just looked at her as if to say ‘what did I just say.’

“Be careful,” she added realizing she wasn’t getting an answer.

“What about breakfast?” Willy asked. The big man’s stomach was growling.

Sally handed him an apple and a granola bar. He was hoping for bacon and eggs.

 “Thank you, mam,” the Reverend said walking out the door.

 

They found the car about a block away from the office. It was parked three feet from the curb on an angle. Billy Anderson had a lot of whiskeys before he parked his raggedy Honda.

“Just follow me and I’ll leave the car near where I dumped the body,” Willy instructed Junior. He seemed like an old pro at this.

“Look for the phone,” Junior reminded Willy.

 Willy walked to the car while Junior stayed in the truck. After a second of searching, Willy was walking back to the Rivera Realty truck with a phone in his hand.

“Drunken fool left it right on the front seat,” Willy said. He handed Junior the phone thru the open driver’s side window. Junior tried to check for messages but the phone was locked. He handed it back to Willy.

“We found the phone. That’s one less thing to worry about. I’ll take care of it. I told you no one is going to come looking for this kid,” the Reverend assured Junior, putting the phone in his pocket.

 Junior did as instructed and followed Willy to ditch the car. When the two of them returned they didn’t speak of it and acted like it never happened.

 

A week later Junior and Sally were still looking to hire some help. They were sitting in the realty office looking at a few employment applications.

“This girl has five years experience as a realtor,” Sally said to Junior handing him her laptop to look at.

“Very pretty too,” Junior said looking at her realtor headshot.

“Let’s keep looking,” Sally said taking back her laptop.

 

The door to the office opened. No bell ringing anymore. Junior removed it. Every time he opened and closed the door it reminded him of the headbanging, skull-crushing, and neck-snapping that happened a short time ago. He was trying to live like it never happened, so he took down the bell.

“Oh my God!” Sally exclaimed jumping out of her seat to hug her old friend.

“So this is Rivera Realty,” Angela said returning the embrace. Junior gave Angela a hug when the two girls disengaged.

“It’s nice to see you,” he said, “what brings you to Key West? Are you on Vacation? Where are the kids?” Junior asked.

“Actually I’m here on business,” Inspector Angela Gold of the Webb County Sheriff's Department said.

 

Episode XI

“You have to come for dinner and see the kids,” Sally said. She was so proud of her children.

“I’d love to,” Angela said. “Hey, do you remember the Anderson family from Laredo? They live on the north side of the county with their wanna-be militia.”

“I don’t think so,” Sally lied. Junior and Sally were near frozen in fear.

 “Well anyway a missing person case came across my desk and Junior’s name was on the report,” Angela said.

“My name?” Junior asked trying to act surprised.

Inspector Gold opened her little notebook. “Yes a Billy Anderson told his mother he was coming to see you about his father Bill Carthage,” she said

“My uncle Bill didn’t have any kids,” Junior said hoping to dismiss this investigation.

“That's what I thought,” Angela said, “but anyway the mother hasn’t heard from him in a few days and hasn’t been able to contact him. So I thought it was a chance for me to come down here and see my friends on the county’s dime.”

 “Well we’re so glad you did,” Sally said giving her friend another hug.

“So you haven’t seen this Billy Anderson?” Angela asked, pulling a picture out of her pocket and showing it to both of them. “The last ping on his phone came from this area.”

“Never seen him before,” Sally said, holding the picture between her thumb and index finger. She handed the photo to Junior expecting the same response from him.

“Yes I’ve seen him,” Junior said. Sally nearly fainted. “He came in last week when I was on my way out to show a house. He said he needed to talk to me and we agreed to meet back later. I never saw him after that,” Junior said trying to explain the pinging phone. “I didn’t think much of it.”

 “He didn’t try to contact you after that?” Inspector Gold asked.

“Nope,” Junior replied

 “I’m sure he’ll show up. He’s probably just avoiding his psycho family. The mother was a real piece of work,” Angela said, “Hey sister how about a tour of this beautiful island?”

“Sure,” Sally said “I know this adorable place to have lunch,” she grabbed her purse and started walking out the door with Angela

“Did you sell the house?” The Inspector asked Junior.

“What house?” Junior asked accidentally, “oh no, they said they’ll think about it,” he continued with the lie. When the door closed behind the girls, Junior let out a giant sigh of relief.

“We may have a problem,” Junior told Reverend Willy Brown on the phone, “how quick can you get to the office?”

“I’ll be there in an hour,” Willy answered.

 

The two men sat in the office with a cup of coffee trying not to panic. The caffeine wasn’t helping.

“Do you think she suspects anything?” Willy asked Junior.

“Not sure. She thinks he’ll show up sooner or later,” Junior said. Both men knew better.

“How long is she going to be here?” Willy asked. He seemed very nervous about her presence.

“Not sure,” Junior answered.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Willy Brown said. He was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince Junior. The Reverend noticed Junior's anxiety. It reminded him of Johnny.

The front door of the office opened and Sally walked in with Angela.

“That was a quick tour,” Junior said. He wasn’t expecting them back so soon. Junor didn’t want Inspector Gold and Willy Brown to meet.

“I’ve got to get back to work,” Angela said, explaining their unexpected early return. “It sure is a pretty island. I love the Rivera Realty signs on the side of the pick-up.” Willy parked the truck in front of the office.

“This is Reverend Willy Brown,” Junior said introducing the two of them. “He works for us.”

“Nice to meet you,” Angela said shaking hands.

“The pleasure is mine,” Willy replied.

“A Reverend,”  Inspector Gold acknowledged.

“Yes, Mr. Brown also runs the local food drive and holds worship on the weekends,” Sally said, “besides maintaining the Rivera Realty properties.”

“A man with many hats,” Angela said. “Have you ever seen this man before,” she asked pulling Billy Anderson’s photo out of her pocket.

“Can’t say I have mam,” Willy answered cool as a cucumber.

“Willy let me know about that drain,” Junior said trying to get Willy to leave.

 “I will boss,” Willy answered. He got the hint and started walking towards the door. “Nice meeting you mam. Have a nice day Miss Sally.” He got into the pick-up truck and drove off.

 “What a nice man,” Angela said when Willy left. “How long has he worked for you?” the Inspector asked.

“A little more than a year,” Sally answered,  “he has been a real Godsend. No pun intended.”

“I have to get back to work but I will definitely have dinner with you and the kids before I leave,” Angela said. She gave Junior and Sally a hug.

“Great, we’ll talk soon,” Sally said closing the door behind her.

 

Junior, Sally, and Willy tried to spend the next few days like everything was fine, but their fear of Angela investigating the missing Billy Anderson was evident. Junior was as quiet as ever spending as much time alone as possible. Willy stayed away from the Carthage family and read the Bible from cover to cover. Sally decided to remodel the kitchen hoping the project would keep her mind occupied on something other than Inspector Angela Gold.

 “Angela wants to come over for dinner tonight,” Sally informed Junior over breakfast. The kids had already left for school and breakfast was a pop-tart and a cup of coffee in the family room. It had been four days since the girls last spoke.

 “I told her the kitchen isn’t functional, so she’s going to come to Reverend Brown’s service tomorrow before she leaves,” Sally said.

“Good she’s leaving,” Junior said, “she must not have found anything.” He was jumping to favorable conclusions.

 

The next morning the Carthage family sat with Angela Gold and more than one hundred other people listening to Reverend Brown’s sermon. After the service was over, the Reverend always let the children make smores before they left. It was his form of bribery to get the kids to come. He had a little fire going and would lay out the graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows for the kids to make their treats. It was the Carthage kid's favorite part of the day. Charlie and Lisa Marie never missed a service. Junior, Sally and Angela sat at the table watching the children when Reverend Willy walked up.

“That was a great sermon Reverend,” Inspector Angela said, “Very inspiring.”

“Thank you very much, and thanks for coming today,” Willy said.

“Since I have the three of you together, there is something I want to show you. I’ll be right back. Stay here.” Angela instructed sounding like a law enforcement officer. She walked back to her car as most of the congregation was leaving.  The extra parking on the empty lot helped with the crowds.

“What’s going on?” Willy asked Junior and Sally as the three of them sat in fear of what Inspector Gold was going to show them

“Not sure,” Junior said.

 

Episode XII

“Not sure,” Sally said. Sally asked a neighbor to drop the kids off at home.  She didn’t know what was happening and didn't want the kids around in case it was bad. Inspector Gold returned with a manila folder in her hand.

“Say goodbye to Miss Angela,” Sally instructed the kids before they left. Angela took a knee. Charlie and Lisa Marie gave her a big hug. The hugging gene they inherited from their mother and grandmother was apparent.

 “It was so nice to see you guys,” Angela told the children as they walked off with the neighbors. Inspector Gold sat down at the table with Junior, Sally, and Willy Brown.

 “Let me show you what I found in my investigation,” she said.  The three of them sat silent.

 “Reverend how many times have you been in prison?” the Inspector asked. “You guys know that he is an ex-con?” she directed the question to Junior and Sally.

“Of course,” Sally said.

“People change. Everyone deserves a second chance,” Junior chimed in remembering the Reverend's very first sermon.

“He’s a good decent man who has rededicated his life to serving others,” Sally added speaking like a character witness.

“I want to show you some photos,” Inspector Gold continued reaching into her folder, pulling out a picture, and placing it on the table.

“This was taken from a traffic camera on the South end of the Seven-mile Bridge. The camera shows all the traffic in and out of the Keys.”  It was a photo of Billy Anderson in his beat-up Honda traveling Southbound entering the Keys. The resolution was crystal clear. It showed the license plate and an unobstructed view of Billy’s face. “It was taken Thursday morning according to the time-stamp.

"That’s my missing person entering the Keys,” she said. Angela Gold reached into her folder and pulled out another photo and laid it on the table next to the first one.

“This was taken Thursday evening,” Gold said. The time-stamp read 9:15 p.m. It showed the Rivera Realty pick-up going Northbound leaving the Keys. The plates and Willy’s face over the steering wheel were undeniable. It also showed something in the back of the truck covered with real estate signs. Inspector Gold just stared at Willy.

“What’s in the back of the truck Mr. Brown?”  she asked. Willy didn’t say a word. Angela Gold reached for another photo and placed it on the table next to the others

“This was taken about two hours later,” Gold continued. It showed Willy driving Southbound back into the Keys. It even showed the Rivera Realty signs on the side of the truck.

“The back of the truck looks a little lighter,” Gold observed. She reached for another photo and placed it next to the previous one.

“This was taken Friday morning,” the Inspector continued. It showed Willy driving Northbound in Billy Anderson’s Honda. Again the plates and Willy’s face were as clear as can be. She reached into the folder for the next picture. “Now here is where it gets a little confusing,” she said.

 “This is ten seconds later. Notice the time-stamp,” She put a photo on the table showing the Rivera Realty truck with Junior driving Northbound right behind Willy. Inspector Gold reached into her folder for a final photo.

“This was taken about two hours later,” Gold said putting the picture down at the end of the others. It showed Willy and Junior Southbound in the pick-up entering the Keys. The picture was so clear you could see Willy Brown’s gold tooth.

“A half ate John Doe was found by some alligator hunters in the everglades yesterday morning. I have a feeling it might be my missing person.” Angela said.

 

Reverend Willy Brown stood up and put his hands out with closed fists as if he was waiting to be hand-cuffed.

“These people had nothing to do with it. It was all me. The kid was drunk and he attacked me. I think he was a white supremacist. I hit him once and he fell and hit his head. These people had nothing to do with it.” Willy lied. He was already laying out a self-defense plea.

“Accomplices after the fact at the very least,” Gold explained the trouble the Carthage’s were in.

 “Sally knew nothing about any of this” Junior said protecting his wife.

 

“Here’s what I know,” Angela explained, “the life that I have with my children is largely because of your generosity,” she said, directing her comments to Junior. “The donation of the ranch to my family after my husband Miguel was killed changed our lives.” She turned and faced Willy, “I sat here today watching the people you touch with your food drive and words of hope Reverend and I’m torn between doing my job or doing the right thing. I know that Billy Anderson was a piece of shit that would be a strain on society for his entire life, but what happened to him is wrong. So when I was sitting here listening to your preaching I prayed to God for Guidance.

Inspector Angela Gold put all the photo’s back in her folder. She walked over to the fire that the children used to make smores and placed the folder on top. It quickly went up in flames.

“I guess my investigation went nowhere. I have to get back to Webb County and file my report. You all have a wonderful life,” Angela told them. She reached out her hand to shake with the Reverend.

“A handshake won’t do Miss Angela,” Willy said. He hugged her so hard she almost lost her breath.

“Sally, will I see you at Easter?” She asked hugging her friend.

“Of course,” Sally replied.

“Your children are beautiful. I could never take their parents away from them,” Angela said during their embrace

“Thank you so much,” Sally said whipping a tear from her eye.

“Junior walk me to my car please?” Angela asked.

“Sure,” Junior said. the two of them walked thru the grass past the stage to the only vehicle left on the property.

“It was a very interesting investigation,” Inspector Angela Gold said holding on to Junior’s arm. Walking in high heels thru the grass was a little challenging. When they got to the car she hugged Junior.

“Thank you so much,” Junior said

Angela whispered in his ear “Your welcome. Let’s just call it even for the ranch Johnny,”

Junior stepped back about an arm’s distance away. He was too scared to speak.

“I pulled prints off of the pick-up truck’s steering wheel. Does my friend Sally know who you are?” Inspector Gold asked.

“Yes she does, she knows everything, and loves me faults and all,” Junior answered. “Do you want to know what happened to Steve Carthage Junior?” he asked

“Is he dead?” Gold asked.

“Yes,” Junior said not afraid of the truth.

“Did you kill him? Are you a killer?’ Gold asked.

“No!” Junior said.

“Who did?” the Inspector asked.

“Scorpians,” Junior answered. Angela looked puzzled for a second but decided it was a rabbit hole she didn’t want to go down.

“Nevermind,” she said, “It was a lifetime ago.” Inspector Angela Gold started her car and drove away.

Johnny Burell just stood and stared.

 

End Season II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: December 11, 2020

© Copyright 2021 T S Air. All rights reserved.

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