This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any actual resemblance to persons or historical persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Hooper characters, settings, locales, ect. are owned by other entities who have not endorsed this fic nor have they given express permission for the character's use. Author makes not claims to these characters and is not making any profit from their use.
All original characters are the property of the author.
© Copyright: 2001-2004. Lisa Philbrick
September 25, 1983
Come on Cully, get up, Sonny announced the Sunday morning
as he walked into the guest room.
Cully awoke and looked at his friend through sleep filled eyes. What the hell time is it?
Early enough that if we leave now we can get to San Diego by noon. Sonny grabbed Cullys jeans off the end of the bed.
Cully closed his eyes and then suddenly opened them again. San Diego? He sat up. Sonny...
Come on, I know where Leeah is and were gonna go talk to her. He found a clean shirt and handed the jeans and shirt to Cully.
Howd you..? Did she call?
No. I tracked down where she is through a friend, a little while ago. Turns out Sherry Sullivan moved to a different part of town. Sonny looked at his friend. You do wanna talk to Leeah dont ya?
Cully hesitated. Well, yeah...
Whats the matter?
"I just hope she wants to talk to me. And not just slam the door in my face.
Dont you at least wanna try? Dont you at lest wanna tell her youre sorry?
Well then, come on. If she slams the door well just knock on it again.
Just over two hours later, Sonny pulled his truck into the drive of the small one story house where Leeah was staying with a friend. The green Firebird was parked up near the garage, a positive sign that Leeah was still there. But not the affirmative. Sonny and Cully walked up to the front door and knocked. The woman who answered the door was not Leeah, but Sherry Sullivan who had once lived in LA and was a friend of Leeahs. She looked at Cully and Sonny and sighed, disapproving of their arrival.
Shes not here right now, she said. She took Casey down to the park.
Cully looked at Sherry, wondering if she was lying. Wheres the park?
Down that way. Sherry pointed in the general direction towards the east. She walked. I wouldnt go find her tho, if I was you, Cully. She really doesnt want to talk to you right now.
Cully was ready to retort when Sonny beat him to it.
Thats fine. Will you let her know we stopped?
I might. I think she would prefer not knowing you were here at all, at least for awhile.
Sherrys concern for Leeah was understandable, but it was severely hampering Cullys efforts at reconciliation, especially seeing as he couldnt even start. Frustrated by Sherrys attitude, he turned and started walking back to Sonnys truck, deciding that the less he said, the better.
Uh, thanks anyway, Sonny said and trotted after Cully to the metallic blue GMC. Sonny climbed in just as the passenger door slammed.
Goddammit, Cully muttered. Leeah wont know we were even here if that little witch has anything to say about it.
Calm down, Cully. If Leeah was in the house she might have heard
us at the door. Shell at least know youre trying.
Yeah...but Sherrys probably trying to convince Leeah to file for divorce now. Fillin her head with all kindsa shit.
You think Leeah would listen to that?
Cully paused. Considerin he could only guess at what the past year had been like for Leeah, he honestly didnt know. There was a time he would have said no immediately. But now...?
I dunno. I would hope she wouldnt.
Listen, maybe Leeah really is at this park. Sherry said it was down this way and in walking distance. Well take a look, ok?
Cully nodded. Awright... The truck pulled away from the curb and the word divorce kept echoing in Cullys head. Hed been divorced once before, a long, long time ago...
Gonna end up like it was with Maybel...
Sonny glanced at Cully, not completely hearing. What?
I said Im gonna end up like I did with Maybel. Divorced because Im a self-destructive neurotic.
No, youre not. Sonny had a hard time completely denying the self destructive part. He knew of times when his friend sometimes took an unnecessary risk, when his drinking got way out of hand, when it seemed like he was going to...self -destruct But he wasnt neurotic about it.
You aint neurotic, he finished.
Im self destructive in some aspects aint I? Not that Im doing it all on purpose. I didnt get into stuntin to kill myself, I got into because I liked it. I liked the rush...you know what the hell Im talkin about dont ya, Sonny?
But what have I been doing in the past year? Damn, Sonny I cant even remember much of the past year. Everything after Vics death has been a blur.... Cully looked at his friend. Thats what self destructive is, Sonny. When you wake up one day and your whole world has collapsed because of all the stupid shit you've done. Leeahs leavin made me realize that my world fell apart and it was my doin'.
Sonny briefly took his eyes from the road to look at Cully, who was staring out the windshield in thought. What if I really blew it, Sonny? What if Im right and Sherrys already got Leeah convinced to divorce me, saying I aint fit as a parent, or some shit? Cully looked at Sonny again. What if my trying to make amends now is too late?
Now youre sounding neurotic. Will you relax? Look, Leeah knows you a hell of a lot better than Sherry does, right? I know Vics death hit you really hard. You looked into the darkness and it sucked you right in and it took Leeah leavin ya to pull you out. Youve got a lot of amends to make, Cully, I aint gonna lie to ya. But you and Leeah married each other because ya love each other, right? You got a little girl, you gotta family that I know means more to you than the whole world. Thats why youre gonna straighten yerself out. And what we gotta do is get to Leeah and show her that youre gonna start to straighten yourself out. Then you got a chance. And I know you can do it.
Cully nodded, feeling inspired by his friends reasoning. You know, if we do find her I aint gonna know what to say to her...
You could start with Im sorry.
Cully nodded. That was obvious. But what do I say after that?
Sonny turned the truck down another street and both he and Cully saw the chain link fence indicating the park was just up ahead.
The truck slowed and Cully tried to look for Leeah and Casey as they approached, but the park was full of joggers, people out walking and kids running around the playground. If Leeah and Casey were there, they werent about to stick right out in the crowd.
You see em? Cully asked.
Naw...everybody looks the same in a park on a day like today. Sonny continued to watch and then spotted a woman walking with a little girl heading towards the street.
Wait a minute I think thats her. Sonny shifted gears and drove the truck up the street just as the woman and girl were starting to walk down the street towards them.
Cully stared at them as they drew closer. He thought his eyes were tricking him. It looked like Leeah and Casey. Sonny was just about next to them when the little girl looked up and her face lit up as her hazel eyes met with Cullys.
Its Daddy, its Daddy! Mommy look!
Leeah looked up at the blue pick up truck just as it came to a stop. Cully stepped out and looked at her.
Daddy! Daddy! Casey let go of her mothers hand and ran to Cully, grabbing his leg in a tight hug. She then jumped up and down, reaching her little arms up to him.
Distracted by his daughter, Cully looked down and smiled despite himself. He picked Casey up. "Hey! How's my girl??" He gave her a hug and sat her on his hip.
Better now that youre here. Mommy said you wouldnt like San Deego, but I knew youd come anyway. She hugged her daddy again.
Cully looked at Leeah, noticing the expression on her face was held in reserve. He couldnt read her, she showed no reaction to the reunion of father and daughter.
Why are you here? she asked neutrally.
I wanna talk to ya. Leeah, Im sorry--
Daddy, wanna see what I can do on the jungle gym? Casey asked excitedly.
Tell ya what kiddo, Sonny said, coming up beside Casey. You
can show me first.
But I wanna show Daddy.
I know ya do, but your momma and daddy gotta talk for a minute.
You can show em afterwards. Sonny opened his arms in invitation
for Casey to allow him to carry her over to the jungle gym. The little
girl accepted, even though she really wanted to show her father first.
But she believed what Sonny said. Okay, she said. She left
her fathers arms and went into Sonnys. As they headed towards
the jungle gym, she started telling Sonny how she had learned to do
this spectacular thing all by herself.
When Cully and Leeah were alone, the older stuntman stood awkwardly looking
at his wife.
So... she started, crossing her arms infront of her, her
stance defensive. You noticed we left.
Yeah. Cully nodded. Scared the hell outta me too.
Leeah nodded, but didnt show much sympathy. As far as she was concerned her leaving had got Cullys attention, and she was going to make sure he understood how she felt by how he had been acting.
Cully shifted from one foot to the other, hooking a thumb into the belt
loop of his jeans. Leeah, listen, Im sorry. I mean that,
Im really sorry.
Its gonna take more than that you know.
And then theres Casey. You expect her to understand where
youve been for the past year? You realize this is the first time
Ive been able to really give you hell about it because youve
been sober long enough to listen?!
Cully swallowed, stung by her anger, silenced by the fact that there
was nothing he could say. It was going to take a lot more than just
Im sorry. And Casey...how was a three year old supposed
to understand daddys demons?
He nodded, numbly. The last thing he had ever wanted to do was to hurt
his family and it was clear he had done it already.
I wasnt gonna stay and watch you destroy yourself, Cully.
I wasnt gonna let Casey watch it either. I warned you, I threatened
you, I even asked you nicely. But no. Every fuckin night of the
week you had to be at the Palomino, drinkin and comin in
at the ungodliest hours of the night.
Leeah snorted. Not anymore huh? Its only been two days, Cully,
youll be right back to doing it again Im sure, youve
been doing it for so goddamn long now.
Cully shook his head. No, I wont. Ill stop. For good,
Leeah, Ill stop. I promise.
You promise? Just like you promised that wed move out of
that dinky apartment? Just like you promised to help me fix the rust
on the door of the Firebird? Got a great big damn hole in it now. Just
like you promised to take Casey to Disneyland....
Cully closed his eyes. He had made a lot of promises before the accident.
He slowly turned away from Leeah.
I promised a lot didnt I?
Yeah ya did. Been waitin over a year for you to do something.
I still can, he said suddenly, turning back to her with determination.
I can still do it, Leeah, if youll give me a second chance?
Ill stop drinkin, Ill make everything up to you...
He took a step towards her and stopped himself, sensing she wasnt
in the frame of mind for him to step too close. Leeah...
He looked her in the eyes, holding her gaze for a long moment, trying
to read her, trying to make his message clear in his own blue eyes
so that she could see.
I love you, he said softly. I know Ive done some
really, really dumb shit but Im gonna make it up to you. I know
its gonna take time, but Im gonna do it.
Leeahs expression softened. Her anger subsided and Cully could
see the pain starting to show. Thats why the past year
has hurt so much, Cully. Because I love you and it hurts when you cant
help someone you love battle their demons. I wanted to help you but
you kept pushing me away. Leeah took a hesitant step closer to
Nothing I said or did stopped you. I couldnt help but think
you didnt care about me and Casey anymore.
That aint true, he said unequivocally. That aint
true at all, yall mean the world to me. But I think I was ashamed
of what I was doing...I didnt want you to see anymore than you
did. Cully looked toward the park and the jungle gym and saw
swinging on the bar with Sonny watching. The little girl meant more
to Cully then anything he thought possible. What the hell had
he been doing for the past year?
I do care about the both ya, and Im gonna straighten myself
out," he said. "I swear it, Leeah, Im gonna git everything
back together again.
Awright. She took a deep breath. But...Im not
comin home yet tho. I think maybe we should stay separated
for awhile, until you start to get yourself together.
Cully had to work to hide his disappointment. He had wanted her to come
home right away. They could start all over again, together. But even
he knew it wasnt going to be that easy. He had to start first,
he had to prove to Leeah that he was going to change for the better.
And he understood that Leeah needed a little time to herself. So long
as Sherry didnt try to convince her of anything.
OK, he said, forcing the doubt out of his mind. He could
overcome any bad seed Sherry planted. Sure he could.
You can come see Casey tho, Leeah said. Just
let me know when you wanna come.
Cully nodded. Awright. That was positive. He could come see
Casey, and Leeah would see that he was changing. Yeah...that would
definitely work out well.
You realize that could be every day? Cully grinned.
Leeah smiled. Im sure Casey would like that.
They stood for a moment, still a little awkward but some of the tension
lifted. Cully was determined now to make things work. God damn, he
Well, Leeah said, I think Caseys waitin
Cully looked toward the jungle gym and nodded. Yeah... He
and Leeah walked into the park and headed toward Casey and Sonny.
Casey saw them coming and jumped down from the ladder of the jungle gym.
She ran to them.
Daddy! Cmon Daddy! She quickly grabbed Cullys
hand and eagerly tugged toward the monkey bars.
Okay, okay. Cully smiled at his daughters enthusiasm.
She climbed up the monkey bars and looked at Cully.
Caseys trick was nothing more than swinging on the
first two bars and then jumping down, landing on her feet. She looked
to her dad for approval. He grinned. Good job!
The little girl took a bow, basking in the applause from her parents
and Sonny, even though Sonny had seen it a few times already.
Wonder where she gets this daredevil tendency? Sonny said,
giving an amused glance to Cully and Leeah.
Leeah chuckled. No idea. Come on, Casey, we better get going.
Are we going home?? Casey asked, excitedly. Home as
in, back to LA?
No, sweetheart. Daddys going back but were gonna stay
here for awhile.
Itll just be awhile longer. Daddy will come to see you.
Why cant Daddy stay here? Why cant we go home?
Casey looked back and forth between her parents. Why couldnt
they understand that things were supposed to be her way? They had to
all be together again, no ifs ands or buts.
Cully kneeled down so that he was close to eye level with his daughter.
Daddys got some stuff he has to do before you and Momma
can come back home.
Are you still sick? The little girl felt fear now. I
dont like it when youre sick.
Cully paused, drawing in a heavy sigh. I know you dont, honey. Your momma doesnt either. But Im gonna get better, then you can come back home.
Cully looked up at Leeah for some kind of help.
Hopefully itll be soon, sweetheart, Leeah said. Cully
Youll come visit? Casey asked.
Cully paused again. This time he answered her on his own. The day after tomorrow.
* * *
Cully watched the scenery go by as Sonnys truck carried them down
the highway back to LA. The wind blew through the open window onto
his face and through his hair and he was lost in thought. He had a
lot he had to do and he mentally went through his checklist.
So lost in his thoughts, Cully didnt realize Sonny had been trying
to talk to him. He turned his head. What? Im sorry...
Sonny chuckled. You awright over there? You aint said a word
since we left San Diego. You and Leeah OK, or what? She know yer gonna
try to get yerself together? Talk to me, man, whats goin
Yeah, she knows. Were....awright, I guess. I dunno yet.
I take it from what you told Casey that Leeahs not comin
home right away.
Cully shook his head. No...I gotta show her Im really gonna
Sonny nodded. And ya are, right?
Sonny grinned. Good. Of course, youll have me to kick yer
ass a few times if you ever need it.
And you know Ill do it.
I know youll do it! Cully laughed. Goddamn, I
September 27, 1983
Cully hadnt driven his Brat on the highway for just over a year.
As far as he knew, the little Subaru would drive fine, after all, he
had only driven it around town. Back and forth between his apartment
and the Palomino. Everyday. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything. On Tuesday morning, the Subaru lasted for an hour. Lack of
preventive maintenance took its toll quickly. Cully had kept
gas in it, but within the past year had never checked the oil, or replaced
filters or even noticed that the car had been
gradually running rougher each time he drove it. He used to take care
of the car diligently. The Subaru now was just another victim on the
list of things Cully had neglected.
It revolted in like fashion. Cully managed to get the little car over
to the break down lane and he looked at the engine and oil lights that
glowed in warning red on the dash. He swore.
Traffic zoomed by him as he got out of the car and walked to the front
of it. Vapor floated out through the grill. He opened the hood and
got a face full.
Piece of shit, Cully muttered. Here he was, half way between
LA and San Diego and the last exit he passed had to be at least a mile
back. He sighed and brought the hood back down, but didnt let
it latch. It was going to be a long walk back to the exit, and it was
hot. And it was hazy. And hed probably get hit by some goddamn
semi flying along on this six lane, freakin California highway.
He doubted anyone was going to stop to help him though. So he left the
Subaru and started walking back. He adjusted his black Stetson with
the push of wind the passing cars created. The smell of exhaust, hot
and thick, surrounded him. The sun was hot, he was hot in his denim.
It was turning out to be a great day.
He looked off towards the horizon, marred in smog. Why did it have to
figure, that the first day he was to go visit Casey, his damn car would
break down? This wasnt going to go over well, he was sure. Another
promise not kept. A chance to further reconciliation with Leeah lost.
He shook his head to himself. Maybe I should just jump over to the
next lane here...
A group of teenagers in a rusted brown Buick blew past him. One kid leaned
out the passenger window and laughed loudly in Cullys direction.
Cully looked back as the Buick zoomed away. The kid was still leaning
out the window and proceeded to give Cully the one finger salute.
Cully returned the gesture. Why dont you come back here and
try that you little shit? he muttered, and turned back in the
direction of the exit.
He had walked maybe sixty feet from the Subaru when a California Highway
Patrol officer zipped by him, gave a short whoop from the siren on
his motorcycle and slowed down. Cully looked up and turned around as
the bike went by and he saw the cop
pull out of traffic and come to a stop behind the disabled Subaru.
A small touch of hope came to him. Maybe things would be okay! Cully
hurried back to the Brat as quickly as he could. The officer dismounted
his bike and looked at Cully as the ex-stuntman came up to him.
Howdy! Cully said and smiled at the officer. Gotta
admit Im glad to see you.
The young cop returned the smile and nodded. This yours?
he asked as he removed his driving gloves.
Yes. I was just about to start walking back to the last exit ramp.
I hope you can help me save a trip.
Well, I can try. The officer walked the short length of the
Subaru, looked inside the car as he passed the open window and came
to the front of the car. Seeing Cully hadnt bothered to latch
the hood, the officer lifted it and looked in.
A cloud of steam was released. Whoa...man. He gently put
the hood back down. Tough break.
Yeah, Cully said.
The cop took a step back and looked down at Cullys standard blue
and yellow alphanumeric plate. It was two months expired.
Umm... The officer scratched the side of his face and looked
at Cully. You aware this plates expired?
Cully was struck dumbfounded. He looked at his plate. July 1983. It was
now September of 83. He cringed. I didnt even register
my car?? No wonder the damn thing broke down... He looked at the
Ive uh...had a rough coupla months.
The officer nodded. May I see your license?
Sure. Cully removed his wallet and pulled out his license.
He glanced at the date on it as he passed it to the officer. Thankfully,
that was current.
This car registered to you, Mr. Dawson?
Cully nodded. Umm...expired, but previously registered to me.
The cop found little humor in it. May I see your registration?
Cullys smile went away like a gust of wind. He nodded and walked
to the drivers side of the Subaru. He got into the car, leaned
over to the glove box to retrieve his registration and noticed the
cream colored Coors can on the floor of the car.
Oh terrific. This just keeps getting better... He quickly tapped
the can, determined that there was still beer in it and realized if
the cop saw it, Cully would be looking at an open container violation.
Although more than likely the beer itself was skunky by now.
So much for things looking up.
Cully got out of the car and found the officer was standing right there.
The cops line of sight was right on the beer can. Cully held
out his registration and didnt say anything. The cop looked at
I hope that cans empty, he said.
Cully swallowed. The officer walked around the car to the passenger side
and opened the door. Cullys car was a mess and there was more
than just a half empty can of beer on the floor. The officer reached
in, picked up the warm can and shook it enough to feel the weight of
You been drinkin today, sir?
Certainly not this huh?
No. To be honest, I dont know how long thats been in
there. Its probably old.
You make it a habit to carry old beer in your car, Mr. Dawson?
No, I dont.
The cop walked back around the car to Cully. Without a word, he took
the registration and with the license, walked back to his motorcycle.
Cully leaned against the back fender of the Subaru and crossed his arms
in front of him. Now he really felt ridiculous. A half empty can of
beer, an expired plate and a busted car. Well, officer, ya see its
kinda like this...Ive been messed up for about a year...
Traffic continued to speed by. People looked at him. Gee, poor guy,
broke down. Whatta shame. Either that or hes been busted for
A few minutes later the officer returned. His ticket book was out. Ive
called for a tow truck for ya, but I am going to have to cite you for
the expired plates and the open container.
Cully nodded. Total combined fines: $150.00. The officer explained the
ins and outs of the citation, although it wasnt like Cully had
never seen one before. He showed Cully where to mark his plea, explained
if he pleaded not guilty there would be a court
date, ect... Cully was already eyeing the guilty box. Pay the fine, get the Brat fixed, inspected, registered and never let it happen again.
The officer handed Cully the ticket and returned the expired registration
and license as well.
Thanks, Cully said. For what?
The cop gave a curt nod. The tow truck should be here in about fifteen minutes.
Cully nodded. He said thanks again, this time appreciative at least for the tow truck coming. Or so he hoped.
Forty-five minutes later, Cully stood in a garage in Mission Viejo and looked at the mechanic. Three hundred and fifty dollars?
The mechanic nodded. Fuel pumps shot, the filters gotta be replaced and your oils burnt. Whens the last time you had this thing serviced, man?
Cullys shoulders slumped. Its been awhile. Listen, can I use your phone?
Yeah, go ahead.
He called Leeah, figuring to get the worst of the bad news out of the way first.
Its Cully, can I talk to Leeah please?
Cully paused and almost asked where out was. Awright, he said. Could you give her a message for me, please? He waited for her to say she would, but Sherry didnt. So he assumed she would. Would you let her know that I aint gonna make it there today. My car broke down.
Your car broke down, Sherry repeated, with that oh excuses, excuses tone to her voice.
Gosh, thats too bad, Cully.
Cully bit his tongue at his retort. Uh, yeah it is, he said instead. Will you please let her know?
Thanks. Cully didnt bother with good-bye and hung up. Bitch, he whispered. He then picked the phone back up and dialed Sonny.
* * *
While Cully was waiting for Sonny to come pick him up, he left instructions to the mechanic about how payment for repairs to the Brat would be made. Cully wasnt sure how much money he had in his bank account...but he figured he might be able to scrape together enough to pay for his car and his fines. He told the mechanic he would contact him later.
You gonna be able to pay to have it fixed? Sonny asked as they drove down the highway back to LA.
I think so. Ill have to see whats in the account. Leeah had been taking care of all the finances.
Sonny nodded. She know you aint comin?
I left a message with Sherry...whether or not it gets passed on...
Hey, dont worry about it. Im sure shell let her know.
Cully paused and then shook his head. I just got a strange feeling about her, Sonny....
I know. Dont worry about her. Just worry about Leeah.
Leeah no more than walked in the door with Casey when Sherry gave her the message.
Guess who called? Cully...hes not coming.
Daddys not comin?? Casey suddenly paid attention to the conversation at the mention of her fathers name.
His car broke down, Sherry explained.
Where is he? Leeah asked.
Sherry shrugged. He didnt say. I didnt ask. Sherry saw Leeah looked a little disappointed. Casey was beyond disappointed.
Mommy? Why cant Daddy come?
His car doesnt work anymore, honey.
Leeah paused, keeping the rest of her thoughts to herself. She and Cully had been flat broke for the past two months, and she wondered how Cully planned to pay for repairs to the Subaru, considering they hadnt even been able to pay the rent...
What are you thinking? Sherry asked.
Leeah shook her head. Nothing....just thinking. She tugged on Caseys arm and led her towards the stairs. Thanks for letting me know...
Sherry watched her friend disappear up the stairs. Im tellin ya Leeah, hes no good...
* * *
Cully looked at the slip of paper the teller slid across the counter to him and nearly had a coronary. It read: Balance, $12.80.
Thats all?? he said.
The girl nodded. Cully looked at her, genuinely shocked. Can you tell me whats in the savings?
Sure. She wrote Cullys account number on another slip of paper and left her teller window for a moment. Cully continued to stare at the $12.80 figure she had written. How did it get so low?? Of course, Cully hadnt worked for nearly a year and all the money Leeah had been putting aside had probably been spent in that time. But still...
The teller came back to the window and handed Cully the slip of paper. This one read: $6.56. Cully sighed, thanked the girl for her help and walked out of the bank.
Uh oh, Sonny said as Cully climbed into the truck. I dont like that look. Whats wrong?
Cully slammed the door and made a face. I cant get the Subaru fixed. I only got about $18 to my name.
That dont even buy me a one way bus ticket to San Diego....dammit.
Well, you can always borrow the truck or Gwens car. Thats not a problem.
Yeah, but not having wheels aint the worst of it. Cully paused. I didnt tell ya this before, but the cop that called the tow truck for me? Slapped me with $150 worth of fines.
Sonny blinked. Yer kiddin!
No, I aint. Expired tags and an open container.
Jeeezus, Cully... Sonny said and shook his head. Nice cop.
No kiddin. Cully watched as a little old lady walked by the truck, tucking her checkbook into her purse. Got any idea how the heck Im gonna scrape together $150 in the next 30 days?
Sonny paused in thought and then nodded. Yep, I do. He started the truck and drove out of the bank parking lot.
Before the accident on the Twilight Zone movie, Cully had been
bringing home almost $700 a week in pay. He and Leeah had been living
comfortably and within their means. But after the accident, Cully only
worked sporadically, taking an occasional job or two for Sonny. And
in the year since, those few jobs had failed to keep them within their
Leeah had started a savings account for Casey and managed to save up almost $8000, in three years. That money quickly disappeared in the past year, most of it going towards rent, groceries and utilities. Cully, of course, felt he had to buy beer too, which pissed Leeah off to no end. Their childs savings was being spent for survival and he just didnt seem to have a clue that things were really all that bad.
On July 1st, Leeah stopped paying the rent. Cullys car hadnt been registered that month because he forgot about it. Not that it made much of a difference. They didnt have the money for that either. Leeah did manage to swing a deal with the landlord, explaining Cully was out of work and the landlord did know of Cullys drinking. He was sympathetic enough to let things slide until the fall. At that point, however, he would have little choice.
Figuring she couldnt count on Cully to be the bread winner, Leeah started thinking of taking a job herself, just to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Several entry-level positions advertised in the want ads looked probable, but not being able to afford a baby-sitter for Casey hampered her efforts. And Leeah realized she couldnt count on Cully to watch Casey either. As July turned into August, the idea of getting a job faded.
Leeah spent most of the month of August either worrying about keeping Casey fed and clothed, or taking Cully to point on his drinking. Sometimes he wouldnt listen and would leave, coming back later in the night, still drunk and sleeping on the couch. Other times hed stand there, looking pathetic like a sad circus clown and Leeah would think maybe she was getting through. Then shed get scared and regret saying anything, thinking maybe she had hit him in one of his dark moments. But then he would be sober for about a day, and Leeah would be so relieved to have him sober for awhile that she wouldnt bother to tell him that they were two months past due on the rent, or that there was no money left in the account.
Then his demons, she figured, would start talking to him and he would up and say he was going to see Sonny. Or Jocko. Or somebody...and he wouldnt come back until late that night, completely bombed.
Leeah spent a lot of time crying in August. Not that it was anymore than what she had been doing for the whole year.
When the cool winds of September started to whisper in the air, Leeah began to realize she couldnt stand it anymore. When she noticed the fear on Caseys face when Cully came home drunk, she knew that things had gone too far. Nothing she said or did stopped or changed him. It had been time to leave.
Sitting in Sherrys guest room, watching Casey play with her doll, Leeah had a hard time shaking her miserable feeling. No matter what, she still loved him. No matter his faults, she still wanted to be with him. She couldnt help but wonder what he was doing right at that moment. Was he stuck in some godforsaken place, waiting for Sonny to pick him up, all the while thinking he could afford to get his car fixed when the reality was he couldnt? Had he realized yet that he cant?
Leeah sighed and reached out to smooth away a wisp of light brown hair on Caseys head. The little girl looked up at her mother.
Are we ever gonna see Daddy?
Leeah nodded. It may be awhile, be we will.
Maybe....maybe, we can go see him.
The little girls face brightened. And in that brief moment, Leeahs own heart lifted a little.
* * *
Back at Sonnys ranch, Cully stood across from Sonny in the living
room shaking his head at the money Sonny held out in his hand. No,
Sonny, I cant take that.
Sonny held out the $200 still. Cully, take it. Youll never get Leeah back if youre in the county jail.
I aint got no way of payin it back--
Dont worry about that now. Just take it. Look, maybe I can get ya some work on the picture Im gaffing, OK? Thatll bring ya little bit of money. Sonny took Cullys hand and forced the money into it. Take it.
Cully looked at the four $50 bills in his hand. He wasnt sure what to say or think. In all honesty, he wanted to cry. Hed been poor once before, but never in the dire straits he was in now. And he was so ashamed of it, he couldnt appreciate what Sonny was doing. All he kept thinking of was how would he pay it back, if he ever could?
He looked at Sonny. Hooper didnt care if he ever got paid back. All he cared to see was Cully back on his feet again.
Take it, Cully.
Cully pulled one of the fifties from the other three. Its only $150 for the fines... He tried to return it, but Sonny gently pushed it back.
And a twenty-five dollar towing charge. Dont give it back to me, Cully. I dont want it.
Cully paused and slowly returned the fifty to the other three. Finally he swallowed his pride and nodded. Awright, Sonny.
Later that afternoon, Sonny and Cully were out in the yard with Dancer
when a visitor came.
Well now, lookie whos here. Sonny grinned and pointed towards his silver haired father-in-law.
Cully looked. Hey, Jocko.
Well if this aint a sight, Jocko said as he walked across the yard towards Sonny and Cully. Bad enough I gotta worry about Sonny here corrupting my only grandchild, now youre here.
Cully grinned. Well, yer too late. Tylers corrupted for life thanks to me. Only took me a few days to do it too.
Shit... Jocko chuckled. I shoulda known. Hey, uh... Jockos expression softened to seriousness. Gwen told me what happened...
Cully shrugged slightly. I screwed up, Jocko. Big time. But Im trying to get everything back together.
Jocko nodded. You okay?
For the most part. I...miss her and Casey tho.
Jocko nodded again, sympathetically. Youll get em back. He spoke in a confident tone and smiled.
Im gonna try damn hard to.
Dancer made a concurring sound behind Sonny, getting a look from all three.
Hey Sonny, now that you got a stable boy here, you oughta get them other horses you been talkin about.
Sonny smiled. Ive thought about it, but I aint sure I can rely on the seasonal help.
Cully feigned offense. What is this? Pick on Cully day? Just for that I think you should buy us all dinner.
Ooooh, Jocko said. Hes pretty smart for a stable boy. Excellent suggestion.
Sonny laughed good naturedly. Where ya wanna go?
The Palomino, Cully answered. He saw Sonnys sudden expression and held up his hands. I wont touch a drop. I just want one of them steak subs and some onion rings.
Mmmm, sounds damn good to me, Jocko said. Lets go.
As with any other night of the week, Tuesday night at the Palomino
Club was packed with people, most of them stunt men and women who retreated
to the open roofed establishment to unwind after a days work. The dance
floor was full and the live band was loud as Sonny, Cully and Jocko
sat at their table eating and conversing. Periodically, Cully looked
around the place, unable to shake the weird feeling of being there
and not having a bottle of beer, or tequila, or some kind of liquor
in his hand. Instead he was drinking Pepsi.
It felt damn weird.
Oddly enough, he also thought of the first time Leeah had come to the Palomino four and half years ago. Four years ago? Had it been such a short time, yet seemingly so long ago? He took another drink of the soda, finding it wasnt helping to bury anything.
A debate at the bar about who had once achieved what, eventually caught the attention of the three. No, thats now how it happened, Sonny called out and got up to make sure that history was being told correctly. Cully and Jocko followed.
I rode the bike, I slid it under the damn truck. Aint nobody been able to do that gag the way I do. I invented that gag. Thats all original Hooper. Aint nobody else can lay claim to that.
Cully and Jocko exchanged a grin. Leave it to Sonny to make sure proper credit was given where due. Especially to himself.
Now take Jocko and Cully here, Sonny said. The reason they dont make westerns anymore is because nobody can handle horses and stage coaches like these two could.
Ill tell you why they dont make westerns anymore, Jocko said. Because half the young actors they got now dont wanna step in horse shit, thats why!
Laughter mixed with the agreement to Jockos statement.
Unfortunately for the three they were unable to relive the old days within their own company. Ski strolled into the juke joint with a few of his buddies and eye contact was made.
Aw shit... Cully muttered and turned to Sonny, gesturing towards the door.
Sonny looked. Hey, Andy, the caliber of customers you got now has really gone down hill.
The ex-stuntman bartender looked at Sonny and then followed Hoopers line of sight over to Ski. Dont go startin trouble, Sonny.
What the hell? Jocko said. Aint like its the same kid we first new five years ago anymore. Hes hot shit and thinks were too damn old to even be breathin!
Just once, Cully said. Just once Id like to... He raised a closed fist, indicating his wishful intent.
Sonny was still watching the young group and saw Ski start to make his way over to the bar. You may just get your chance, Cully...
Cully and Jocko both turned to look. The Kid walked up to the bar and gave Andy a shit grin as he placed his order.
Sure thing, Andy replied and then shot a warning look at the three veteran stuntmen. Keep yer mouths shut...
They did. But Ski didnt.
So...this is the stuntmans retirement huh? Sit around a bar talking about glory days?
So? Jocko said. "You seemed right damned interested in some of them stories a few years ago."
Kid stuff. But at lesat ya got 'em." Ski glanced at Cully. "I know some folks who don't have the opportunity anymore to talk about their long careers." Ski's tone was accusatory.
Cully's spine stiffened. Well thats because hot shit like you put them in an early grave, he said. The line was now drawn. Cully and Ski looked at each other with Sonny and Jocko looking back and forth between the two.
Maybe he couldnt handle the scene because somebody got him all flustered before it.
Cully slid off the bar stool and drew himself up to his full six foot one inch height. Maybe it was too damn dangerous to begin with.
Ski rolled his eyes. This must be the thing with old age. Everybody wants to be too careful.
It aint got nothin to do with bein too careful. It has to do with smarts, Ski, which is something you seem to be lackin as of late.
Hey, stuntins dangerous no matter how you look at it.
Maybe so, but theres a difference between careful planning of a gag...and just plain recklessness. Cully eyed Ski. Youre just plain reckless. Stupid and reckless.
I do my job, and I do it well. If some other people cant handle the heat they should get out of the fire.
That same fire's gonna burn yer own ass you keep up with this. Dont say you aint been warned.
Yeah, I appreciate your concern, Ski sneered. Andy returned with Ski's order. Skis expression changed right back to the fake smile.
Cully was thoroughly annoyed. Before Ski could pick up the drink, Cully beat him to it. The older ex-stuntman raised the mug, giving his own shit grin to the youngster. To the stupidest stuntman still alive. Because everyone knows stupid stuntmen dont survive.
Skis expression remained smug. Poetry huh, Cully? Very nice. Im really honored.
Cully moved the mug over Skis head and tipped it, pouring the drink over The Kids clean and neatly combed brown hair. The Palomino suddenly hushed into silence, a few oohs and uh-ohs poking into the quiet.
Cully put the empty mug down on the bar. Yeah, I thought youd like that. I made that one up just for you, Kid. He grinned at Ski.
The young stuntman stood there, humiliated. His breathing soon grew to a huffing and puffing and two of his buddies came up behind him, ready to defend whatever honor it was they believed in.
Cully stepped half circle around Ski and waved a taunting finger at him. Cmon...take a swing, Kid, I know you wanna. You wanna beat up the old man, cMon.
Ski looked at Cully and smirked. Suddenly he lunged toward Cully. The area near the bar exploded in action. Sonny and Jocko jumped away from the bar to keep Skis two friends from getting involved and trying to double or triple team on Cully. The two young men glared at their older counterparts, but made no attempt to get involved in the fight. Afterall, it appeared Ski was handling himself just fine.
Cully took the Kids frontal assault and tried to compensate. Ski had Cully pushed back onto a table and got in a couple of punches before Cully managed to throw him off. Ski stumbled back, regained his footing and blocked Cullys delivery of a punch, and returned his own to the older stuntmans stomach.
Cully stopped and had no choice but to take the rest of what Ski could dish out. The younger stuntman was barely breaking a sweat and he landed a punch to Cullys jaw that sent the ex-stuntman back into the bar.
The fight paused and Ski watched as Cully tried to prop himself up against the bar. As much as Cully pissed him off, Ski felt no desire to finish the fight. Seeing Cully pretty much beat was enough.
Thatll teach ya... Ski muttered. He started to walk towards his friends
Cully managed to turn himself around. Shit...this aint over, Ski. Youll see...youll fuck up...
Ski didnt acknowledge. His two buddies each gave Cully a sneer and followed Ski out of the Palomino.
Cully held on to his stomach with one hand and the edge of the bar with the other. Goddammit.... he groaned. Sonny and Jocko came up to each side of him.
Ya feel better now, you got that out of your system? Sonny asked, taking a hold of Cullys arm.
Cully shook his head. No...
Cully, I think you got other things to be worryin about than Ski, Jocko said. Let it go...hell of a lot of good its gonna be if Leeah comes back only to find you all busted up.
Jockos right, Sonny agreed. Cmon, lets get outta here...
Sonny and Jocko took Cully back the ranch, where Gwen emptied nearly
all the ice out of the freezer to treat Cullys bruises.
Cully, what the hell possessed you to get into a fight with Ski? she asked as she returned to the living room.
Well hes been a jerk for a couple years now, Cully replied, defensively. Ever since Sonny here went strictly a gaffer. Im tired of his snot-nosed attitude. He held the ice pack Gwen made for him to his jaw.
I dont think that was her point, Jocko said. What she meant was, Cully, youre too goddamn old to be gettin into barroom brawls, what the hell possessed you to fight with Ski?
Cully made a face, flinched at his sore jaw and then looked up at Gwen with a gleam in his eye. Maybe so, but it felt good to dump that beer on his head.
Gwen laughed with Sonny and Jocko. I think that was my favorite part too, Sonny said.
You didnt drink any beer did you? Gwen asked.
Cully shook his head. No, maam I didnt. He paused. Tho...I will admit it felt odd being there and not having a bottle of something in my hand.
"You had a bottle of Pepsi in your hand," Sonny said.
"I know, but it's different."
Gwen gave Cully a sympathetic smile and patted him on the arm. I think youre gonna have to get used to it.
Later that evening, Cully sat in the living room of the ranch with the phone to his ear. Sonny, Gwen and Jocko were out back with Tyler, affording Cully a moment alone.
He listened to the ringing on the other end of the line, ready to take whatever pleasantries Sherry gave him. But the female voice that answered him wasnt Sherry.
He blinked. Leeah?
Hi Cully, his wife said with a smile.
Hey. Wasnt exactly expectin you to answer.
Sherrys gone out for awhile.
Oh, good. Uh, I mean...
Leeah softly chuckled. Its okay, Cully. I know what you mean. How are you
Im awright. Did she tell you what happened?
Yeah. Where were you?
Oh. She hesitated, debating broaching the next subject.
Cully detected it. Yeah, I know. I aint got no money to get it fixed.
She sighed. Weve been broke for about three months, Cully. I tried tellin you.
Im sure ya did, he said gently. Probably several times...
Leeah paused. Yeah.
Cully sighed now. Listen, uh...Gwens letting me borrow her car tomorrow. Um...if you--?
Yes, Cully, Leeah said. Casey and I would like to see you.
Cully managed a smile. Awright. I gotta couple of things to do in the morning, Ill try to get there around one or so?
Okay Leeah....I love you.
Leeah bit her lip and then smiled. I love you, Cully.