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Dealing with Big Willie


Clinton Rinehart attended his father’s funeral in Kansas City under guard. On the way back to the penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri, he searched his mind for a way to protect Bennie Garcia from Bull Heinrick and the other cons who worked in the butcher shop. Rumor had it they were going to come after Bennie again in the laundry room. Bull Heinrick hated Mexicans, and he had not stopped talking about how much he liked fucking Bennie in his tight little ass and listening to him squeal like a pig.


Clinton wanted to arrange something that would protect Bennie and at the same time avoid confrontation. He knew he could take Bull Heinrick or any of the other butcher shop cons in a fight, but a fight or any other kind of altercation might put a black mark on his record and jeopardize his chances of parole.


During morning exercise in the yard the following day, Clinton approached Big Willie Tanner, an inmate who controlled most of what went on in the facility and everyone feared, including the guards. Big Willie sat on a bench in a corner of the yard, smoking a cigar. Bull Heinrick, his enforcer, stood close by, his arms folded over his chest.


“Whadda you want, Rinehart?” Bull asked, glaring at Clinton.


“I want to talk to the man. Okay with you, Big Willie?”


Big Willie flicked the ash from his cigar. “I’m a lifer, so I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”


Clinton asked point-blank what it would take to ensure Bennie’s safety.


Bull snickered. “Why the fuck do you care? You plannin’ on making the little spic your bitch?”


“Not everyone is a pervert like you, Heinrick,” Clinton said. “Besides, I’m not talking to you.”


Bull clenched his fists and moved toward Clinton. Clinton responded in kind.


Big Willie jumped to his feet and stood between them. “Both of you back off,” he said. “Now!”


Bull backed away, and Clinton relaxed.


Big Willie returned to his seat on the bench. “I got a grandkid named Billy—Billy Tanner,” he said without looking at Clinton. “His old man, my son, got himself killed in an armed robbery, and his old lady ran off. Billy’s nine years old or close to it and been livin’ with my sister down in the West Bottoms of Kansas City. She’s a doper—fuckin’ every lowlife with a ten spot to feed her habit. If the kid stays with her much longer, he’s gonna be no good for life. Maybe you got people on the outside what can help him.”


“Maybe,” Clinton said. “Maybe I do.”


“Well, if you do, we can deal,” Big Willie said, then told Clinton his sister’s name and where she lived.


“Thanks, Big Willie,” Clinton said. “I’ll get back to you.”


“Soon as I get word my grandkid’s in a good place, that little spic of yours is safe.”


Clinton turned and walked away. He hurried inside, slipped a five-dollar bill to a guard, and told the guard he wanted to make a quick phone call.


The guard took Clinton into a room with a phone and waited while he placed his call.


“Hi, Momma,” Clinton said when Momma answered the phone. “It’s Clinton. I want to make sure you’re coming to see me during visiting hours this Saturday.”


“Of course, I’m comin’.”


“Which one of my wayward brothers is driving you this  time?”


“Well, Mark Allen is out of the question. He went back to California a couple of days after Papa’s funeral. And Eddie can’t get away. So, that leaves Harry. He’s driving me. We’ll get there at a little before two in the afternoon.”


* * *


Momma’s mouth dropped open when Clinton told her and Harry that Bull Heinrick and the other cons in the butcher shop had taken turns raping Bennie Garcia in the laundry room.


“Oh, my good Lord in heaven above!” Momma said. “That’s the most vile and wicked thing I’ve ever heard. I sure hope there’s no chance of somethin’ like that happenin’ to you, Clinton.”


“Don’t worry, Momma,” Clinton said. “That’s the advantage of coming in here with a reputation for knowing how to stick up for myself. Nobody messes with me.”


Clinton told Momma and Harry about the deal he was trying to make with Big Willie.


Harry suggested he and Momma call Child Welfare and have the boy taken away from Big Willie’s sister.


Clinton frowned. “That’s not what Big Willie has in mind.”


“Then what does he want?” Harry asked.


“Momma, could you take care of the kid for a while?” Clinton asked. “I’ll take him to live with me as soon as I get out of here on parole and make enough money to support him.”


“No way!” Harry said. “Momma is too old to take that on.”


“Now you wait just a minute, Harry Wayne Rinehart!” Momma said. “I’m not so old and infirm that I can’t decide things for myself. And as a matter of fact, I might like havin’ a boy around the house again.”


She looked at Clinton and added, “But before I decide, I want to see the boy and talk to him.”


Clinton suggested Harry offer Big Willie’s sister money for the boy. “She’s on drugs, Harry, and my guess is she’d let you and Momma have anything she’s got to get money for another fix. I just hope she hasn’t started tricking the kid out yet to guys who like young boys.”


Momma gasped. “Oh, my good Lord in heaven above!” she said. “That’s even more vile and wicked than what you told us those awful men did to that poor young man in the laundry room.”


* * *


Two days later, Harry called Clinton and told him that he had given Big Willie’s sister a hundred dollars for Billy.


“What’s he like?” Clinton asked.


“He’s skinny with curly, dark brown hair, and perky eyes,” Harry said. “He was a bit leery of Momma and me at first, but after Momma talked with him for a while, he got over it. Momma took to him immediately, and when she took his hand and told him he was coming to live with her, he grinned from ear to ear. We had no problem with Big Willie’s sister. She took the hundred bucks I offered her and told us she was glad to get rid of the kid. She said she was moving to St. Louis with her new boyfriend. My guess is the new boyfriend is also her new pimp.”


“Did you tell Momma’s and my attorney about taking the boy?” Clinton asked.


“Yeah, Momma and I both did.”


“What’d he say?”


“He didn’t like it a bit,” Harry said. “He told us it wasn’t legal, but from the moment Momma saw Billy, there was no arguing with her. I’ve never seen her so determined or so happy. The mother in her clicked into gear again, and she was rarin’ to go. And Billy, well, he’s so damn happy to have all that Momma can give him that he’s not about to give her any trouble. She fixed up Mark Allen’s old room for him and bought him all kinds of clothes. And she fixes all kinds of food for him. His favorites are fried chicken, cheeseburgers with French fries, and strawberry shortcake with vanilla ice cream. She says she’s going to put some meat on his bones. The kid’s in heaven.”


“How about school at Hartman? Does he like it?”


“He’s just okay with school, but he likes the girls. He likes them a lot, and they’re crazy about him from what Momma says.”


Clinton chuckled. “Sounds like Eddie.”


Harry laughed. “Yeah, it does, and like Eddie, it might get him into trouble one of these days.


“How are you doing?” Harry asked.


“I’m okay. And what you’ve told me about Billy makes my day,” Clinton said. “It sounds like living with Momma is working out just fine.”


“It sure is. It’s a shame, though, that he has to grow up in our old neighborhood. But then, it’s better than growing up in the West Bottoms. Besides, he’s at my house, playing with my son Jason as much as he is at Momma’s house—at least on weekends. So he’s exposed to the advantages of living in a better area of the City. And if he needs a man around to help him with guy things, I’m around just like Papa was for us.”


* * *


Two days after Clinton and Harry talked, Big Willie put the word out that anyone who harmed Bennie Garcia in any way would answer to him. During afternoon exercise in the yard, he shook hands with Clinton.


“I got word from people I know in Kansas City that my grandson is in good hands,” he said. “You thank your Momma for me. She sounds like a mighty fine woman. You’re too young and dumb to appreciate it, Rinehart, but you and your people have just made yourselves a friend for life.”

Copyright © 2023 Frank Zahn. Published in Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Volume 17,
Chateaubriand, pp. 125-28 -

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