"Gary, you've got to tell me what to do. Otherwise I'm gonna lose my freakin' house!"
Gary put his elbows on the table, and his face in his hands. "Frank, you of all people know it doesn't work like that. It comes and goes when it wants. And right now, I'm not getting anything."
Frank slammed down the heavy mug, splashing the liquid on both men. He grimaced, hastily grabbing the mug before it slid off the table.
"Sorry. I just need something. Anything. I mean what will Jane and the kids do? Neither of us has any family left. I don't think I could stand to see my wife struggling to change diapers, crammed in the Chevy with five kids."
Gary looked into his friend's moist eyes. "You're overthinking things. Yes, the plant shuts down next month. But there are other places in Vindale. Maybe you can ask Davis if he needs help."
Frank snorted, and a grin almost escaped. "The day old man Davis admits he needs help with Davis Hardware will be the day they drive some of those nails of his into his own coffin."
Gary looked at the two mugs, now warm and mostly empty. "Hey Linda, got a refill for two of your favorite customers?"
A woman with two full mugs appeared seemingly from nowhere, her cowgirl boots clicking on the hardwood floor. "Sure Gary, let me know if you happen to see them."
The two men chuckled, despite the serious topic of conversation. A few seconds later they were alone again.
Frank stood. "You can have mine, Gary. I've got to meet Stan soon unless I want to walk home."
"What's this?" he asked, as he stopped at the neighboring table.
Gary stood. "Looks like a paper. I get one every morning."
Frank leaned over, studying it. "No, this full page ad here. There's a big rodeo Saturday, and the main event is going to feature Rattlesnake. If anyone can stay on him for two minutes, they'll get twenty five thousand dollars! Gary, that would take care of the mortgage, with a little left to pay the bills until I find something."
Gary took the paper, and crumpled it before throwing in a nearby bin. "Rattlesnake killed three men last year. He's the meanest bull this country has seen in decades."
Frank grinned, attempting to retrieve the paper. "I stuck to that mustang Gramps brought home. Stuck to him like glue, I did!"
Gary stood in front of the bin. "You were 23 then. And Dragon wasn't Rattlesnake. He was a tired old stallion who had lived his life on the range, and was ready to retire."
"You don't think he had any fire left? What about the race he won the following year at the fair?"
"I know, he was still pretty tough... but he was no killer. Just promise me you'll stay away from that bull."
Frank shook his head. "I can't promise that, unless you come up with something before Saturday. I either need the prize money or a job."
Reluctantly Gary returned to the table, allowing Frank to retrieve the paper.
"Why can't I sleep? It's Saturday!" Gary complained, looking at the flashing 4:30 on the alarm clock, and rolling over to stare at the ceiling.
"Oh right, Frank's going to get himself killed trying to act like he's 15 years younger. I guess I'll go for a drive. Maybe I can catch him at the intersection, and talk him out of it."
An hour later, Gary sat watching the sun rise ever higher in the sky, as his friend's truck bounced down the gravel road.
Frank stopped, and rolled down his window. "I told you, my mind's made up. There's nothing you can say to stop me."
Gary's shoulders slumped. "Well, I guess I'll just have to go along then. Someone will have to scrape up what's left after that bull is finished with you."
Frank slowly began to roll up the window. "Do as you want, Gary. I really feel like I can win this thing."
They drove for several hours, Frank in the lead.
Gary became dizzy, and pulled over just in time. Flashes exploded in his mind, of a massive black bull towering over his friend, mixed with images of an older man falling from a ladder. The last image was of a white sign, with bold black letters: Davis Hardware.
When the fog cleared, he put his foot on the gas.
Frank stopped. "Everything alright? I was about to go back and see if you needed a hand."
Gary stumbled out of his vehicle. "We have to get back to Vindale now. You said if I came up with anything, you wouldn't go through with this stupid plan. Well, I just did."
"What is it, Gary? And why can't it wait until after the rodeo? Even if you convince me not to enter, I'd still like to go."
Gary shook his head. "It's now or never. I know it, like I know I'm standing here talking to you."
Reluctantly Frank turned around.
Gary was already out of sight by the time he was underway, driving well beyond the speed limit.
Frank sped up, and eventually caught sight of his friend. By the time they arrived in Vindale, they were traveling together.
"What's going on?" Frank asked himself, as Gary slid to a stop in front of Davis Hardware.
"Is he okay?" Frank shouted, after he walked in, and saw the elderly man lying next to the ladder propped up on a tall shelf.
Gary cleared some nuts and bolts out of the walkway, then covered the injured man with his jacket. "He's got a broken leg, and is going into shock. Call an ambulance."
Davis groaned. "I'm sure glad you came when you did. What were you doing here on football day, anyway?"
Gary rubbed his chin. "Just out for a drive. Looks like you won't be climbing any ladders for a while. I know someone who might be real interested in a job..."
Davis groaned again. "If you want a job, it's yours."
Gary shook his head. "No, Frank here, he's going to lose his job when the plant closes. He's a good worker, and knows his tools."
Davis sighed. "I owe you two. I'll hire him, and keep him on as long as he wants."
Frank walked in from the back room. "They'll be here in a few minutes, they said not to try to move him."
Gary grinned. "I've got some news, but don't go getting the hammer and nails just yet."
Cover image made in Canva Pro using their gallery