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for sale: one jeep, absolution thrown in free

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Chuck always keeps a gun out in plain sight, while he's doing the church pantry distributions Sunday nights. There's too many families in Mission City, not enough donations, and it takes some hard-edged firmness to ration out the food so that there's a little for everybody. Everybody always thinks they deserve help more than the next person; when an argument's gone on too long, he just nudges the gun a bit until they shut up and take their bag of groceries already.

Besides, he's on a tight schedule. It's bad enough for these folks to need the handouts in the first place; he doesn't see any point in shaming them by making them all see who else is broke (the gossips have enough fun speculating about that as it is). So they're staggered out, one every fifteen minutes, so people can get in and out of the church with at least a little dignity.

Next one coming up is Mac. Not that it really is the guy's fault, this time; that patent lawsuit that's been simmering for years has finally settled, and pretty well bankrupted him in the process (that's twice now, come to think of it, and without a wife to help out this time). And Newberry might be crazy as a box of frogs, but he demands payment on time, in cash- so maybe the lawyer isn't as crazy as all that.

On top of that, Mac's sister had died in a car crash earlier this summer, and he's adopted the niece who's the only family he has left...yeah. Pretty tough time of things. Though it's as good as a soap opera for Mission City right now, whether he'll lose the shop or at least give up Becky to social services. The favourite bet is for the start of the school year, before he throws in the towel. Chuck's figuring October.

(He does have more reason than anybody else in town, to remember there's a tough streak hidden inside their soft barista.)

"So how's Becky handling things? I seem to recall that Allison could be quite the worrywort at times.”

"God, I hope not. She's had more than enough misery for one summer, I'm not telling her about any of my problems," Mac says. "If I can't keep my own niece from worrying about whether she's going to have a roof over her head next week, I might as well give up raising her now. That's no kind of way for a kid to live."

"Some little old lady's bound to mention your troubles, sooner or later."

"Mmm. Who even buys all that Wonder Bread?" Mac asks, staring at the two white loaves going into his bag with something between distaste and sheer raw hunger.

The man'll be asking questions on his death bed. "Betty Parker has a standing order at the supermarket. Her little contribution to society, she says."

"She could do a lot better than that, if she wanted to...I shouldn't gripe," Mac admits. "Been meaning to ask you something. That jeep of mine- still want it?"


"Last summer, remember? You said you wouldn't mind taking it off my hands, one of these days."

Oh, that. Okay, so he had joked about that, but- they've already got two cars, and whatever his teenage son thinks they don't really need a third.

"Didn't Ellen take the station wagon? What are you going to drive?"

"I'll pick up a junker, this fall- you know I can get anything to run. But right now, I've got to pay my coffee supplier, and Newberry's been waiting a month for his fee, and I don't even know where I'm going to get this month's alimony check from...anyway, you said you wanted it, I'm offering it," Mac says, with a brave attempt at defiant indifference. Bit late for that now.

Chuck's still on the verge of saying no, when-

"C'mon. Jesse would have."

And that is hitting below the belt in a big way. That is bringing up the subject that have made the two of them avoid each other for decades, despite living in the same town. Because what happened to Jesse had been an accident on both their parts, but...Mac had taken all the responsibility on himself. Even though he hadn't been the one to fire the gun.

They've been living parallel lives since then, him with his gun shop and a fancy house with the swimming pool out back and a good wife he likes just fine, while Mac's dreams of college and a happy marriage and everything else have crashed and burned. There but for the's as if his old childhood friend became the scapegoat, carrying all the bad luck for both of them, and he may be a Christian but he has a superstitious fear of having that guilt rebound on him.

But not so superstitious as to lose all his business sense, anyway.

"Three thousand. I’ll pay you cash, tomorrow night."

Mac locks gazes with him. It's worth more than that, and they both know it.

"Four thousand," the barista says, cool as winter ice. "And I get to borrow it in a few weeks. Jack Dalton's gonna need a lift from prison."

He doesn't sound angry; Chuck's used to dealing with angry people, but this isn't like that. Calm, self-possessed. Focused on survival. With maybe just a tinge of violent, unpredictable insanity creeping in at the edges.

"Okay," Chuck agrees, thoroughly intimidated. And throws an extra wedge of cheese into the bag, for good measure.

He's better change his wager in that betting pool. Tonight. Cos if that's the way Mac's going to be from now on...well.

Becky Grahme probably doesn't have a thing to worry about.