The Lonnie and Tiny stories started with a writing exercise Sara Marian and I did at a writers’ retreat. We took a sentence — something about an explosion — and wrote for five or ten minutes. What I ended up with was the beginning of “Lonnie, Me and the Hound of Hell,” which tells about how Tiny got his dog, Homer.
Since then, Tiny keeps showing up to tell me stories about Lonnie. I just shake my head.
With this story, Story A Day May is more than halfway over. I’m having fun, and I hope you are, too. I’m sorry today’s story is so long; it just kept going.
Lonnie, Me and the Loaded Lady
by Marian Allen
Lonnie and me had just finally finished setting up his and Leona’s Christmas tree when she got back from Wednesday prayer meeting and play practice. My wife, Mary Lee, had wanted to come help, but I told her we couldn’t cuss right with women around, so she stayed home and wrapped presents.
Leona, a hardshell Baptist, went to church every time they unlocked the doors, and she always volunteered to direct the Christmas pageant, which practiced right after Wednesday prayer meeting so the hound of heaven could at least lick at the heels of the kids in the play, so Wednesday looked like a good choice for this particular project.
Lonnie Carter is my best friend in the world, but he’s a certifiable fool. That’s just something you got to accept about Lon and then go on from there.
For instance: Him and Leona always have a real tree instead of an artificial one, so driving out to Leona’s cousin’s in the country to cut one is a yearly adventure. Lucky for me, it’s kind of a personal Thing with them, or Mary Lee and me would get drug into it, and Lonnie in the woods with an ax is an experience I am absolutely not wanting to have.
But my point is, they don’t have a big ol’ box full of plastic branches to put the tree stand into, so we searched the attic for an hour before we went downstairs to guzzle one of the beers I brought with me and Lonnie found the stand on a top shelf in the walk-in pantry where he’d seen it every day of the world.
Anyway, we got the tree up with only a few minor scratches and bruises each and even got the tree pretty straight by the time Leona got in.
She flopped onto the couch without even taking off her coat. She looked so frazzled, I nearly offered her a beer before I caught myself.
“Rough day at the pageant?” Lonnie leaned his tall, skinny self over to kiss her on the forehead without breathing beer on her and barely caught himself from somersaulting into her lap.
“The children are so sweet,” Leona said, not really answering the question, to my mind.
“You draft some locals?” That’s what Lonnie called the non-churched friends of the church kids who the church kids got to come be in the pageant. It was part of Heart of Jesus’ Junior Missionary program. I hated to tell Leona, but bribery, blackmail and threats of violence got as many young locals through the door as Christian witness. She probably would have said something about fighting fire with fire or using the Devil’s own tools against him, but it would have hurt her to hear it, no matter what she said out loud, so I kept what I knew to myself.
“There are five children from the neighborhood in the pageant this year,” she said.
“The Herdmans?” Lonnie said it every year, and got a chuckle out of it every time. Out of himself, that is, not out of anybody else.
The Herdmans were the family of wild kids who took over the play in that book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.
“No,” Leona said, in that tone women get when they say no to the same question for the fifty-millionth time. “John Beckman is back; he’s been to church on his own several times this year; we have hopes of him joining us in fellowship one of these days. He brought his little cousin, Batey.”
Lonnie scrubbed at a patch of pine sap on the back of his hand, wincing when it pulled at his hairs. “What kind of a name is Batey?”
“Short for Bateman.”
“Bateman Beckman? What kind of folks does that poor child have?”
“Well, that’s the thing. His father’s passed and his mother’s in jail for shoplifting, so he’s staying with John’s folks until she gets out.”
“You better watch your purse.”
I should have gone home, right then, but I knew Mary Lee would want a report on Mary Lee’s pageant and wouldn’t want to bother her by calling her up when she’d just got home from it, so I stayed.
“That’s not fair,” she said. “Just because his mother stole, doesn’t mean the child is a thief. Does it, Tiny?”
Tiny is me. I played football in high school, where the coach always said I was a defensive line all by myself, so naturally everybody calls me Tiny.
I said, “Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it does. Mary Lee always watches her purse everywhere anyway.” If she didn’t switch purses to go with her outfits, you’d think it was a baby, the way she keeps track of it. In fact, no matter which one she’s carrying, I always call it Wilson, just to mess with her.
“Well, tonight,” Leona said, “Batey came up to me and tugged at my sleeve and said, “There’s a lady in hall and I think she’s loaded.”
Lonnie said, “How old is this squirt?”
“Four, I think.”
“Does he know what loaded means?”
“I didn’t ask. Right about then, parents started coming to pick their children up. I told a couple of the men, and they had a look around and didn’t find anybody, so we just left. I need to call Pastor Billy and tell him about it.” She finally looked at what we’d spent the evening working at. “Doesn’t that tree look a little wockerjawed to you?
The next Wednesday, Lonnie and me went with Leona. Mary Lee had been pushing it all week, worried for her best friend and the pageant kids, and she had got me worried, too. I was so worried, I even brought my dog, Homer.
Lonnie didn’t like it, of course. “You can’t bring that hell hound to church!”
“Why not, I’d like to know? He’s housebroken.”
“Because he’s a hell hound! He’ll probly bust into flames and scare the kids!”
“Lon, this dog is probably a better Christian than you and me put together. He’ll be fine. If we run into any trouble, you’ll be glad he’s there.”
Leona objected, too. “If there is a drunken woman coming around, I don’t want you to scare her to death.”
Lonnie said, “What do you want us to do? Chase her off?”
Leona looked uncomfortable. “That doesn’t seem very Christian, does it? I want you to …. Oh, I don’t know! Ask her what she wants? Help her?”
I took Homer, anyway. Maybe not the best idea I ever had, but I hate to give it to Lonnie. Of course, if Lonnie hadn’t been Lonnie, it wouldn’t have been as bad an idea as it was.
Lonnie and me got interested in watching Leona work with the kids and forgot to patrol. He was watching because he’s just pure nuts about his wife, like I am about Mary Lee, and I was watching because I could see now how she managed life with Lonnie. The technique looked pretty similar.
Anyway, Leona was working with the shepherds, wise men, and central characters, so the heavenly host was kind of at loose ends. Most of them had come over to pet Homer and make over him, which he ate up with a spoon. Truth be told, he’s a fairly ugly dog, but the kids didn’t seem to notice or care.
One little kid grabbed ahold of my finger and said, “That loaded lady is back.”
“Heads up, Lon,” I said. “Target spotted.”
“What? A spotted what?”
“This little kid says he saw You Know Who.”
“Elvis?” He finally caught up. “Oh!” He squatted down beside the little boy. “Where, honey? Where is the lady?”
The boy went mute, probably freaked out by two big men and an ugly dog all staring at him. “Outside,” he whispered. “Outside.”
Outside was a big place.
I extracted Homer from his fan base and Lonnie and me took him into the hall. The restrooms were across from the Fellowship Hall, where the play practice was, and they didn’t have any windows, so the only way the boy could have seen outside was from the glass double doors at the end of the corridor.
They were locked, of course, for security, but Leona had given me the key, so I let us out and locked up behind us. Right away, I felt like we maybe should have called the cops. It was late November, and cold and black as Dick’s hatband, as my grandpa used to say, although the grounds were lit up with security lights.
“He’s probly just making it up to get attention,” Lonnie said. “His father dead and his mother in the slammer and all. He probly just wants people to pay attention to him.”
“Have you been watching daytime television again?” Lonnie worked first shift, but he’d got some kind of machine he could program to record shows without commercials, and I’d walked in on him watching People’s Court a couple of times, and that bald guy who’s on practically every show on tv. Steve Harvey. “You been watching Steve Harvey?”
“I know a little psychology. I read this article on Facebook that talked about it.”
We rounded the corner of the church building, and almost plowed into her.
She was tall and meaty, built good but kind of on the overgenerous side, which I like, but which I don’t exactly tell Mary Lee, her being sensitive about her own wonderful well-builtedness. This woman had dark hair that didn’t shine in the artificial light, so it was probably a bad dye job. She just had a flimsy coat on, and a dress and the kind of shoes you wear when you have to stand up for a long time.
“Hey, there,” Lonnie said. “Can we help you?”
“No,” the woman said, in a hollow kind of voice. “Can’t anybody help me.”
Lonnie surprised me by saying, “The Lord can help you, Sister. Come on into church, where my wife is. She can lead you to the Lord.” Mary Lee had read me from a magazine about how husbands and wives can start to be more like each other, but this proved it so hard I thought I might have to write to the magazine and tell them about it.
“All I want to be led to is Matt Brenner.”
“Matt Brenner? Little bald-headed squirt, wears bow ties?”
That’s when we found out that Batey both did and did not know what loaded means.
The woman pushed back her coat and pulled out a revolver.
“Gun!” Lonnie yelled loud enough to wake up the folks in the church graveyard. “Woman with a gun! Run for your life!”
“You sexist pig,” the woman said, and pointed her gun right at Lonnie.
Homer pulled his leash out of my hand and jumped her.
She was solid enough not to go down, but the gun fired into the dirt.
Lonnie took his own advice and bolted for the church. I probably would have followed him, but Homer, bouncing back and forth between the woman and me, had got his leash wrapped around my legs.
“Damn it, Homer!” I bent down to get free, and the next bullet went over my head.
Around the corner, Lonnie was pounding at the glass doors, yelling, “Woman with a gun! Let me in! Let me in!” He stopped pounding and apparently took off running again, his voice getting smaller as he went, yelling, “Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!”
I got Homer loose and he jumped the woman again. The gun went off, chipping the corner off a church brick. She pointed the gun at Homer.
Everything went red behind my eyes. “Don’t you shoot my dog! Don’t you do it!” I knotted up a fist and showed it to her. I’ve never laid a violent hand on a woman or damn few men, and she sure could have killed me, but I don’t think she couldn’t have put enough bullets in me to keep me from paying back anybody who hurt my dog.
When the red passed, I saw Homer standing at her feet, ruff raised, growling like a grizzly bear, and her with her hands raised and her finger off the gun’s trigger.
“I’m not shooting your dog,” she said. She bent down to put the gun on the ground. Homer stopped growling and licked her on the chin.
She knelt beside him and hugged him till he squeaked, his tail wagging like somebody was feeding him.
Lonnie’s voice got louder, and he came around the far corner of the building in a full circle. “Help! Help! Help! Help!” He skidded to a halt on the blacktop. “Oh.”
“Good work,” he said. “I distracted her and you overpowered her when she wasn’t paying attention.”
She looked up at Lonnie like he had some kind of answer for her and said, “Can I talk to your wife?”
Leona said it was a scandal in the church. She said Matt Brenner – that little bald-headed squirt in the bow ties – had kept the loaded lady as a mistress for years until he got caught at it and the preacher made him give her up. Apparently, she didn’t want to be given up, and she’d come gunning for Matt.
Leona passed her on to the pastor, who passed her on to the pastor of a church on the other side of town.
Heart of Jesus hired a couple of rent-a-cops to handle security. That was fine with me. Church is just too damn dangerous for a man and his dog.
MY PROMPTS TODAY: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, shoplifting, lady with a gun