I always give out those instant lottery tickets at Christmas time, with the comment that, if you win, you still have to deliver your load. It’s a running joke – a driving joke, I mean – and the guys were huddled around my desk, scratching away with their pennies and cursing the ticket makers. I could hear Bill out in Well No. 6 methodically thumping the wheels with his tire buddy and humming to himself. He liked to hum a low tune and was usually a pleasure to listen to, but he sounded a bit edgy today. He had a big delivery to make, his tractor was running, and Droopy was distracted with something other than the loading of his trailer.
Sometimes when trouble comes, you see it take place in slow motion. It’s almost surreal, and if it’s a necessary trouble, your better half lets it play itself out. Trouble came and went in seconds at Big Lake Window on Christmas Eve. We have a sanitation man named Louie, who’s a bit simple and very likeable. Louie also likes to sing to himself as he sweeps, and he was doing so as he brushed past Droopy. Louie had forgotten to pull his pants up all the way that morning, so they were a bit low. Droopy, who was already electrified by the attention he was commanding, seized the opportunity to help Louie’s pants go a bit lower. He yanked them with one hand as he passed with a double hung window, and down they came to reveal a very colorful pair of boxer shorts.
The whole dock exploded with laughter. Some of the drivers stepped out to see what the commotion was about. Louie was frozen, and Droopy seized the moment. He set his window down and began to tango around the embarrassed man, continuing the song Louie had been singing in a high-pitched tone.
I could feel that streak coming in my face, and my guys were aware of it. They parted and made a path in my doorway for me, their mouths shaped into silent whistles, but William Byron Fletcher stopped things before I had the chance. I had not heard his tire buddy cease its air-check, but he had dropped it and was up on the dock before it hit the ground. By the time I made it to the doorway, he had the tip of Droopy’s nose between his thumb and forefinger, and had raised him up enough that only his toes touched the cement. There was now silence on the dock, except for a hissing sound that came from the dangling Droopy. Bill glanced my way, and I saw grave sincerity in his eye as he turned back to Droopy quietly and said, “Tain’t so much how a man dances as where he steps.” It was really the only slang I had ever heard from him. With task completed, he then lowered him, jumped back into the well, and picked up his tire buddy.
By this time, Louie was gone. So was everyone else. It was just Droopy and me, and he was looking at me with mouth ajar, pointing at Bill’s truck.
“Done loading, Droop?” I asked.
He was angry, and he wouldn’t close his mouth, but he knew he had been wrong, and his witnesses had disappeared. It was evident that we were all on the same page. It took one week for him to resume his usual character, but he never bothered Louie again. Bill and I never spoke about it.
Christmas came and went, and Bill gained more and more respect at Big Lake Window. He had a very quiet way about him, but his presence was larger than life. He even caused me to do some inspection on myself once in a while.
It was a fairly warm day when Bill walked into my office holding the slender cat I had heard about in one arm. In his hand was a small envelope. He was sweating.
“A bit sick today, sir,” he said. “I’ll be going into the hospital for a few days. I’ve got one large and one small favor. I’ll start with the large.”
He put the cat on the chair next to the magazine rack. “Can Holliday stay in here until I come back? I’ve got no relatives, and I really -”
“That’ll be all right, Bill. Just get yourself to the doctor and don’t worry about anything. Call me if you need anything. I don’t have any relatives either, so here’s my home phone number. You won’t bother the mice in my house.” I grinned.
Bill shook my hand, gestured to a bag of cat food on the dock, and started for the door. I had never seen him look so tired.