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

 

Chapter Two
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 Cully’s 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 we’re gonna go talk to her.” He found a clean shirt and handed the jeans and shirt to Cully.

“How’d 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 don’t ya?”

Cully hesitated. “Well, yeah...”

“What’s the matter?”

"I just hope she wants to talk to me. And not just slam the door in my face.”

“Don’t you at least wanna try? Don’t you at lest wanna tell her you’re sorry?”

“Yeah...”

“Well then, come on. If she slams the door we’ll 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 Leeah’s. She looked at Cully and Sonny and sighed, disapproving of their arrival.

“She’s not here right now,” she said. “She took Casey down to the park.”

Cully looked at Sherry, wondering if she was lying. “Where’s the park?”

“Down that way.” Sherry pointed in the general direction towards the east. “She walked. I wouldn’t go find her tho’, if I was you, Cully. She really doesn’t want to talk to you right now.”

Cully was ready to retort when Sonny beat him to it.

“That’s 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.”

Sherry’s concern for Leeah was understandable, but it was severely hampering Cully’s efforts at reconciliation, especially seeing as he couldn’t even start. Frustrated by Sherry’s attitude, he turned and started walking back to Sonny’s 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 won’t 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. She’ll at least know you’re trying.”

“Yeah...but Sherry’s 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 didn’t know. There was a time he would have said no immediately. But now...?

“I dunno. I would hope she wouldn’t.”

“Listen, maybe Leeah really is at this park. Sherry said it was down this way and in walking distance. We’ll take a look, ok?”

Cully nodded. “Awright...” The truck pulled away from the curb and the word divorce kept echoing in Cully’s head. He’d 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 I’m gonna end up like I did with Maybel. Divorced because I’m a ‘self-destructive neurotic.’”

“No, you’re 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 wasn’t neurotic about it.

“You ain’t neurotic,” he finished.

“I’m self destructive in some aspects ain’t I? Not that I’m doing it all on purpose. I didn’t get into stuntin’ to kill myself, I got into because I liked it. I liked the rush...you know what the hell I’m talkin’ about don’t ya, Sonny?”

“Sure do.”

“But what have I been doing in the past year? Damn, Sonny I can’t even remember much of the past year. Everything after Vic’s death has been a blur....” Cully looked at his friend. “That’s 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. Leeah’s 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 I’m right and Sherry’s already got Leeah convinced to divorce me, saying I ain’t fit as a parent, or some shit?” Cully looked at Sonny again. “What if my trying to make amends now is too late?”

“Now you’re sounding neurotic. Will you relax? Look, Leeah knows you a hell of a lot better than Sherry does, right? I know Vic’s 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. You’ve got a lot of amends to make, Cully, I ain’t 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. That’s why you’re gonna straighten yerself out. And what we gotta do is get to Leeah and show her that you’re gonna start to straighten yourself out. Then you got a chance. And I know you can do it.”

Cully nodded, feeling inspired by his friend’s reasoning. “You know, if we do find her I ain’t gonna know what to say to her...”

“You could start with ‘I’m 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 weren’t 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 that’s 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 Cully’s.

“It’s Daddy, it’s 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.

“Leeah...”

“Daddy! Daddy!” Casey let go of her mother’s 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 you’re here. Mommy said you wouldn’t like San Deego, but I knew you’d come anyway.” She hugged her daddy again.

Cully looked at Leeah, noticing the expression on her face was held in reserve. He couldn’t 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, I’m 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 father’s arms and went into Sonny’s. 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 didn’t show much sympathy. As far as she was concerned her leaving had got Cully’s 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, I’m sorry. I mean that, I’m really sorry.”

“It’s gonna take more than that you know.”

“I know.”

“And then there’s Casey. You expect her to understand where you’ve been for the past year? You realize this is the first time I’ve been able to really give you hell about it because you’ve 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 I’m sorry. And Casey...how was a three year old supposed to understand daddy’s 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 wasn’t gonna stay and watch you destroy yourself, Cully. I wasn’t 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.”

“Not anymore.”

Leeah snorted. “Not anymore huh? It’s only been two days, Cully, you’ll be right back to doing it again I’m sure, you’ve been doing it for so goddamn long now.”

Cully shook his head. “No, I won’t. I’ll stop. For good, Leeah, I’ll stop. I promise.”

“You promise? Just like you promised that we’d 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 didn’t 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 you’ll give me a second chance? I’ll stop drinkin’, I’ll make everything up to you...” He took a step towards her and stopped himself, sensing she wasn’t 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 I’ve done some really, really dumb shit but I’m gonna make it up to you. I know it’s gonna take time, but I’m gonna do it.”

Leeah’s expression softened. Her anger subsided and Cully could see the pain starting to show. “That’s why the past year has hurt so much, Cully. Because I love you and it hurts when you can’t 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 her husband.

“Nothing I said or did stopped you. I couldn’t help but think you didn’t care about me and Casey anymore.”

“That ain’t true,” he said unequivocally. “That ain’t true at all, y’all mean the world to me. But I think I was ashamed of what I was doing...I didn’t want you to see anymore than you did.” Cully looked toward the park and the jungle gym and saw Casey 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 I’m gonna straighten myself out," he said. "I swear it, Leeah, I’m gonna git everything back together again.”

“Awright.” She took a deep breath. “But...I’m 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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. “I’m 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 was determined.

“Well,” Leeah said, “I think Casey’s waitin’ for you.”

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! C’mon Daddy!” She quickly grabbed Cully’s hand and eagerly tugged toward the monkey bars.

“Okay, okay.” Cully smiled at his daughter’s enthusiasm. She climbed up the monkey bars and looked at Cully.

“You watchin’?”

“I’m watchin’.”

Casey’s ‘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. Daddy’s going back but we’re gonna stay here for awhile.”

“Why?”

“It’ll just be awhile longer. Daddy will come to see you.”

“Why can’t Daddy stay here? Why can’t we go home?” Casey looked back and forth between her parents. Why couldn’t 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. “Daddy’s 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 don’t like it when you’re sick.”

Cully paused, drawing in a heavy sigh. “I know you don’t, honey. Your momma doesn’t either. But I’m gonna get better, then you can come back home.”

“When?”

Cully looked up at Leeah for some kind of help.

“Hopefully it’ll be soon, sweetheart,” Leeah said. Cully nodded.

“You’ll come visit?” Casey asked.

“Sure will.”

“When?”

Cully paused again. This time he answered her on his own. “The day after tomorrow.”

* * *

Cully watched the scenery go by as Sonny’s 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.

“Cully?”

So lost in his thoughts, Cully didn’t realize Sonny had been trying to talk to him. He turned his head. “What? I’m sorry...”

Sonny chuckled. “You awright over there? You ain’t 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, what’s goin’ on?”

“Yeah, she knows. We’re....awright, I guess. I dunno yet.”

“I take it from what you told Casey that Leeah’s not comin’ home right away.”

Cully shook his head. “No...I gotta show her I’m really gonna change.”

Sonny nodded. “And ya are, right?”

“Damn right.”

Sonny grinned. “Good. Of course, you’ll have me to kick yer ass a few times if you ever need it.”

Cully chuckled.

“And you know I’ll do it.”

“I know you’ll do it!” Cully laughed. “Goddamn, I know that...”

 

September 27, 1983

Cully hadn’t 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 it’s 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 didn’t let it latch. It was going to be a long walk back to the exit, and it was hot. And it was hazy. And he’d 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 wasn’t 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 Cully’s direction. “Bahahahahah!! Sucka.....!”

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 don’t 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 I’m 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 hadn’t 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 Cully’s 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 plate’s expired?”

Cully was struck dumbfounded. He looked at his plate. July 1983. It was now September of ‘83. He cringed. I didn’t even register my car?? No wonder the damn thing broke down... He looked at the officer.

“I’ve 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.” He chuckled.

The cop found little humor in it. “May I see your registration?”

Cully’s smile went away like a gust of wind. He nodded and walked to the driver’s 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 cop’s line of sight was right on the beer can. Cully held out his registration and didn’t say anything. The cop looked at him.

“I hope that can’s empty,” he said.

Cully swallowed. The officer walked around the car to the passenger side and opened the door. Cully’s 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 the liquid.

“You been drinkin’ today, sir?”

“No.”

“Certainly not this huh?”

“No. To be honest, I don’t know how long that’s been in there. It’s probably old.”

“You make it a habit to carry old beer in your car, Mr. Dawson?”

“No, I don’t.”

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 it’s kinda like this...I’ve 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 he’s been busted for something...

A few minutes later the officer returned. His ticket book was out. “I’ve 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 wasn’t 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 pump’s shot, the filters gotta be replaced and your oil’s burnt. When’s the last time you had this thing serviced, man?”

Cully’s shoulders slumped. “It’s 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.

Sherry answered.

“It’s Cully, can I talk to Leeah please?”

“She’s out.”

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 didn’t. So he assumed she would. “Would you let her know that I ain’t gonna make it there today. My car broke down.”

“Your car broke down,” Sherry repeated, with that ‘oh excuses, excuses’ tone to her voice.

“Yeah.”

“Gosh, that’s too bad, Cully.”

Cully bit his tongue at his retort. “Uh, yeah it is,” he said instead. “Will you please let her know?”

“Oh sure.”

“Thanks.” Cully didn’t 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 wasn’t 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. I’ll have to see what’s in the account. Leeah had been taking care of all the finances.”

Sonny nodded. “She know you ain’t comin’?”

“I left a message with Sherry...whether or not it gets passed on...”

“Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m sure she’ll let her know.”

Cully paused and then shook his head. “I just got a strange feeling about her, Sonny....”

“I know. Don’t worry about her. Just worry about Leeah.”

Cully nodded.


Leeah no more than walked in the door with Casey when Sherry gave her the message.

“Guess who called? Cully...he’s not coming.”

“He’s not?”

“Daddy’s not comin’??” Casey suddenly paid attention to the conversation at the mention of her father’s name.

“His car broke down,” Sherry explained.

“Where is he?” Leeah asked.

Sherry shrugged. “He didn’t say. I didn’t ask.” Sherry saw Leeah looked a little disappointed. Casey was beyond disappointed.

“Mommy? Why can’t Daddy come?”

“His car doesn’t work anymore, honey.”

“Oh.”

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 hadn’t even been able to pay the rent...

“What are you thinking?” Sherry asked.

Leeah shook her head. “Nothing....just thinking.” She tugged on Casey’s arm and led her towards the stairs. “Thanks for letting me know...”

Sherry watched her friend disappear up the stairs. I’m tellin’ ya Leeah, he’s 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.

“That’s all??” he said.

The girl nodded. Cully looked at her, genuinely shocked. “Can you tell me what’s in the savings?”

“Sure.” She wrote Cully’s 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 hadn’t 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 don’t like that look. What’s wrong?”

Cully slammed the door and made a face. “I can’t get the Subaru fixed. I only got about $18 to my name.”

“Aw man...”

“That don’t even buy me a one way bus ticket to San Diego....dammit.”

“Well, you can always borrow the truck or Gwen’s car. That’s not a problem.”

“Yeah, but not having wheels ain’t the worst of it.” Cully paused. “I didn’t 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 ain’t. 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 I’m 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 means.

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 child’s savings was being spent for survival and he just didn’t seem to have a clue that things were really all that bad.

On July 1st, Leeah stopped paying the rent. Cully’s car hadn’t been registered that month because he forgot about it. Not that it made much of a difference. They didn’t 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 Cully’s drinking. He was sympathetic enough to let things slide until the fall. At that point, however, he would have little choice.

Figuring she couldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 wouldn’t listen and would leave, coming back later in the night, still drunk and sleeping on the couch. Other times he’d stand there, looking pathetic like a sad circus clown and Leeah would think maybe she was getting through. Then she’d 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 wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 couldn’t stand it anymore. When she noticed the fear on Casey’s 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 Sherry’s 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 couldn’t 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 couldn’t? Had he realized yet that he can’t?

Leeah sighed and reached out to smooth away a wisp of light brown hair on Casey’s head. The little girl looked up at her mother.

“Are we ever gonna see Daddy?”

Leeah nodded. “It may be awhile, be we will.”

“Soon?”

“Maybe....maybe, we can go see him.”

The little girl’s face brightened. And in that brief moment, Leeah’s own heart lifted a little.

* * *

Back at Sonny’s 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 can’t take that.”

Sonny held out the $200 still. “Cully, take it. You’ll never get Leeah back if you’re in the county jail.”

“I ain’t got no way of payin’ it back--”

“Don’t worry about that now. Just take it. Look, maybe I can get ya some work on the picture I’m gaffing, OK? That’ll bring ya little bit of money.” Sonny took Cully’s hand and forced the money into it. “Take it.”

Cully looked at the four $50 bills in his hand. He wasn’t sure what to say or think. In all honesty, he wanted to cry. He’d been poor once before, but never in the dire straits he was in now. And he was so ashamed of it, he couldn’t 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 didn’t 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. “It’s only $150 for the fines...” He tried to return it, but Sonny gently pushed it back.

“And a twenty-five dollar towing charge. Don’t give it back to me, Cully. I don’t 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 who’s here.” Sonny grinned and pointed towards his silver haired father-in-law.

Cully looked. “Hey, Jocko.”

“Well if this ain’t 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 you’re here.”

Cully grinned. “Well, yer too late. Tyler’s corrupted for life thanks to me. Only took me a few days to do it too.”

“Shit...” Jocko chuckled. “I shoulda known. Hey, uh...” Jocko’s expression softened to seriousness. “Gwen told me what happened...”

Cully shrugged slightly. “I screwed up, Jocko. Big time. But I’m trying to get everything back together.”

Jocko nodded. “You okay?”

“For the most part. I...miss her and Casey tho’.”

Jocko nodded again, sympathetically. “You’ll get ‘em back.” He spoke in a confident tone and smiled.

“I’m 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. “I’ve thought about it, but I ain’t 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. “He’s pretty smart for a stable boy. Excellent suggestion.”

Sonny laughed good naturedly. “Where ya wanna go?”

“The Palomino,” Cully answered. He saw Sonny’s sudden expression and held up his hands. “I won’t touch a drop. I just want one of them steak subs and some onion rings.”

“Mmmm, sounds damn good to me,” Jocko said. “Let’s 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 wasn’t helping to bury anything.

A debate at the bar about who had once achieved what, eventually caught the attention of the three. “No, that’s 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. Ain’t nobody been able to do that gag the way I do. I invented that gag. That’s all original Hooper. Ain’t 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 don’t make westerns anymore is because nobody can handle horses and stage coaches like these two could.”

“I’ll tell you why they don’t make westerns anymore,” Jocko said. “Because half the young actors they got now don’t wanna step in horse shit, that’s why!”

Laughter mixed with the agreement to Jocko’s 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 Hooper’s line of sight over to Ski. “Don’t go startin’ trouble, Sonny.”

“What the hell?” Jocko said. “Ain’t like it’s the same kid we first new five years ago anymore. He’s hot shit and thinks were too damn old to even be breathin’!”

“Just once,” Cully said. “Just once I’d 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 didn’t.

“So...this is the stuntman’s 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 that’s 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 couldn’t 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 ain’t 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, stuntin’s dangerous no matter how you look at it.”

“Maybe so, but there’s a difference between careful planning of a gag...and just plain recklessness.” Cully eyed Ski. “You’re just plain reckless. Stupid and reckless.”

“I do my job, and I do it well. If some other people can’t handle the heat they should get out of the fire.”

“That same fire's gonna burn yer own ass you keep up with this. Don’t say you ain’t been warned.”

“Yeah, I appreciate your concern,” Ski sneered. Andy returned with Ski's order. Ski’s expression changed right back to the fake smile.

“Thanks, Andy.”

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 don’t survive.”

Ski’s expression remained smug. “Poetry huh, Cully? Very nice. I’m really honored.”

Cully moved the mug over Ski’s head and tipped it, pouring the drink over The Kid’s clean and neatly combed brown hair. The Palomino suddenly hushed into silence, a few ‘ooh’s’ and ‘uh-oh’s’ poking into the quiet.

Cully put the empty mug down on the bar. “Yeah, I thought you’d 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. “C’mon...take a swing, Kid, I know you wanna. You wanna beat up the old man, c’Mon.”

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 Ski’s 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 Kid’s 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 Cully’s delivery of a punch, and returned his own to the older stuntman’s 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 Cully’s 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.

“That’ll teach ya...” Ski muttered. He started to walk towards his friends

Cully managed to turn himself around. “Shit...this ain’t over, Ski. You’ll see...you’ll fuck up...”

Ski didn’t 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 Cully’s 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 it’s gonna be if Leeah comes back only to find you all busted up.”

“Jocko’s right,” Sonny agreed. “C’mon, let’s get outta here...”

 

Sonny and Jocko took Cully back the ranch, where Gwen emptied nearly all the ice out of the freezer to treat Cully’s bruises.

“Cully, what the hell possessed you to get into a fight with Ski?” she asked as she returned to the living room.

“Well he’s been a jerk for a couple years now,” Cully replied, defensively. “Ever since Sonny here went strictly a gaffer. I’m tired of his snot-nosed attitude.” He held the ice pack Gwen made for him to his jaw.

“I don’t think that was her point,” Jocko said. “What she meant was, ‘Cully, you’re 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 didn’t drink any beer did you?” Gwen asked.

Cully shook his head. “No, ma’am I didn’t.” 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 you’re gonna have to get used to it.”

Cully nodded.


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 wasn’t Sherry.

He blinked. “Leeah?”

“Hi Cully,” his wife said with a smile.

“Hey. Wasn’t exactly expectin’ you to answer.”

“Sherry’s gone out for awhile.”

“Oh, good. Uh, I mean...”

Leeah softly chuckled. “It’s okay, Cully. I know what you mean. How are you
doing?”

“I’m awright. Did she tell you what happened?”

“Yeah. Where were you?”

“Mission Viejo.”

“Oh.” She hesitated, debating broaching the next subject.

Cully detected it. “Yeah, I know. I ain’t got no money to get it fixed.”

She sighed. “We’ve been broke for about three months, Cully. I tried tellin’ you.”

“I’m sure ya did,” he said gently. “Probably several times...”

Leeah paused. “Yeah.”

Cully sighed now. “Listen, uh...Gwen’s 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, I’ll try to get there around one or so?”

“Okay.”

“Okay Leeah....I love you.”

Leeah bit her lip and then smiled. “I love you, Cully.”

 

Chapter Three