After chucking Streeter’s cigar across the tent, Buck took out one of his own, lit it and began cleaning his weapon once more. One by one, he shined the buttons of his coat and brushed the gray wool. He’d try for colors again tomorrow. Before long and although it was only just past three, Buck fell off to sleep.
When someone shoved him awake it was night. “Who’s that?” Buck asked, trying to steady his quavering voice.
“It’s the wolf come to get you, little girl!” The shadow flew at Buck and laughed.
“I scared you good, Buckie!”
Buck sat up and lit his lantern. “But what’s the date? You’re not expected back for another week.”
“Yes, well, I blame you for everything. Mother sent word about your rough time.” Fred took up the lamp and passed it before his brother’s face. “Mercy! I hope you gave the bastards hell who did this to you!”
“I was outnumbered and . . .”
“Come now, Buck. A few of my friends made the return trip with me and are awful thirsty so get dressed and we’ll hike off to Benny’s.”
“That’s five miles off. No, Fred. I’m tired. I don’t feel like walking the woods at night. I’m glad you’re back, but . . .”
“You won’t go against me on this,” Fred said, dragging his brother from bed.
Reluctantly Buck dressed. A drink with friendly faces might do him good. They crept past the guards and took the long trek out near Long Pond Mountain where the infamous Benny Haven’s tavern had relocated after the West Shore train construction pushed the cadet refuge from its perch on the Palisades. One of Fred’s friends ordered Buck a drink, and he found himself nearly choked up with sentiment.
“How’s the head?” the friend asked.
“I’m just released today from the infirmary,” Buck said taking a long swig. “It’s all foolishness I hope to put behind me. Streeter . . .”
Fred banged his fist on the carved-up, sticky table. “I knew that nigger had something to do with it!” he said poking his thick fingers into his brother’s chest. “What did I tell you? Didn’t I warn you, but you’ve changed. I don’t like what I see a bit! What did you do for Streeter?”
Buck hesitated. “I didn’t do anything. They assigned him to my tent and maybe people assumed . . .”
“Why didn’t you ask for a different cadet? You can be so excruciatingly dull!” Fred cried.
“I’m not dull! I didn’t see the reason in being cruel to Streeter so I just let it go and kept to myself, but my friends cut me,” Buck explained.
“As they should for such stupidity. They understand, as somehow you don’t, that niggers have no place at West Point!” Fred threw down money and one of his lackeys fetched more drinks.
“And what makes you so special, Fred?” Buck asked. “What have you ever done for West Point or anyone but yourself? You were always vicious and brutal and I went along, but I don’t want to anymore.”
“Since when have you become a saint?” Fred asked, jerking his thumb in his brother’s direction before addressing the others. “I’ve always saved Buck from himself. He likes to play both sides. Obedient doctor’s son by day while counting his spoils by night. Remember when you killed the chicken?”
Buck had hatched a plan to get money for lemonade and tobacco as a boy. “Let’s steal some eggs from Mr. Bradley’s coop, boil them and sell them at the station,” he’d suggested.
Fred and the Connelly boys from Waldo Place helped with the eggs and took a chicken for the lark of it. They boiled the eggs at their secret spot in the woods.
“Buck, shove off and return the chicken, while we head to town,” Fred said.
“Oh, Fred, it was my idea to sell the eggs. Send Connelly,” Buck protested.
Fred’s eyes darkened as he watched his brother run his fingers over the hen’s soft feathers. “Give it over, Buck,” he demanded, tearing the flailing bird away. “Is it gooses or hens that don’t fly?” he asked as he trotted to the edge of the Palisades.
“Fred! She won’t fly! I’ll take the blame with Mr. Bradley. Let me bring her back,” Buck pleaded, but too late.
Fred threw the bird over the edge and they watched it plummet to the next jagged ridge.
“It ain’t dead,” observed one of the Connelly boys in his deadpan stupidity.
“Hey, bet you can’t climb down and get her for us to cook,” Fred challenged.
The boy puffed himself up and scrambled over the rocks to retrieve the hen. After a few missteps the hen was thrown back up to Fred. The animal’s body hung limp, but the bird blinked and caught Buck’s eye.
“Fred, let me take her to Father. Maybe he can fix her.”
“Land sakes, Buck, you’re a real shit-ass. We will NOT tell Father.” Fred tossed the bird in his hands. “There’s no fat on this thing. Not worth the effort, boys.”
He threw it a small distance.
One of the Connellys found a stone, aimed and missed. Fred laughed, aimed and struck the bird, yet still it lived.
Buck groaned, found a larger stone, got close and crushed the animal’s skull.
Fred dashed up. “What’s the matter, Buck? You’re not gonna cry, right? Oh, come on. Let’s go sell our eggs so the day’s not a complete waste.”
The eggs didn’t sell well at first. Fred noticed an old soldier hobbled with an ill-fitted leg. “That’s it, fellows. I know what to do.” He waited until the soldier limped out of view. Fred called out pathetically, “Our Pa’s dead from the war—please buy an egg.”
Even Buck half laughed, and the eggs were suddenly sold. The boys squabbled over funds until Mr. Demarest the storekeeper, with Graham Crenshaw in tow, interrupted them. The Connelly boys ran off.
“Dr. Crenshaw, I couldn’t believe your sons would do such a thing.”
“Thank you, Mr. Demarest,” Graham said as he grabbed his sons by their collars.
“Father, don’t blame us; it was those Connellys,” Fred explained. “They told us they’d throw Buck over the Palisades if we didn’t help sell eggs for their drunken mother—we did it for the children.”
Buck cried now about the chicken. Graham looked at Buck with soft eyes. “Buck, I don’t believe your brother, but if you tell me that it’s so, I’ll believe it.”
Buck caught his breath. “Fred is telling the truth.”
Graham yanked them both by their wrists and jerked them along. “You boys make me sick! There are real boys your age with no fathers.”
“We don’t have a real father either! You’re never around!” Fred grumbled.
Graham slapped him hard. “Everything I do is for you!”
Fred yelled back, “Liar!”
“You little piss-ant! Can I help it that you’re so repugnant I can’t stand to be near you? And Buck, why are you crying? Do you really think I have any sympathy for you? I thought there was something more to you!”
“There is, Father!” Buck sniffled.
Graham pushed him. “I don’t believe you anymore. Your will is so entangled with Fred’s.”
Fred’s friends finished their drinks. No one offered Buck a second one. He stood to go. His father’s stiff show of affection came back to him and Buck wanted to go to his room to write a friendly letter thanking his parents for visiting.
Fred pulled him back down. “Buck, old fellow, where are you off to? We’re not finished here.”
“Fred, I don’t want to fight.”
“So what does that mean? You’ll let the nig win?”
Buck stood again. “What is Streeter winning that he doesn’t deserve for his own hard work? He’s a person, Fred. So you don’t like him, how does he hurt you?”
“What? What’s happened to you, Buck? You desert your own race?”
“No, Fred, it’s nothing about race. I’m just deserting you. It’s you. I want to make my own decisions for a change. I want Father to be proud.”
“Father?” Fred guffawed.
“I need to please myself and do what I believe,” Buck said.
“And what, for God’s sake, do you believe?” Fred asked.
“I don’t know yet, so I guess I have to figure it out,” Buck replied.
This time Fred didn’t ask him to stay, and Buck almost wished he would. He had made a decision that puzzled him.
PART ONE HERE
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
PART FOUR HERE
PART FIVE HERE
PART SIX HERE
Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!
“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review