Billy Anspach had returned to his father’s general store with a wagonload of supplies from the port of Baltimore and spent the afternoon unloading and inventorying the myriad products that could not be produced locally. When he finished, he settled behind the main counter and waited on customers. Seeing that all the new supplies had been stowed, Billy’s father, Calvin, hugged the gallon jug of Irish whisky Billy had brought from and shuffled the two blocks to their home. With Billy returned, Calvin Anspach could indulge his favorite pastime: rocking on the back porch and getting quietly drunk.
Sunlight slanting in low through the front display window told Billy closing time had arrived. He counted up the numerous coppers and the few silver coins, locked the back door, and put on his hat, thankful for the short distance home. Wind had blown up, the sky had cleared, and the temperature was dropping. With only a few days until Christmas, the weather had been unseasonably warm, but it now looked like the season would catch up to itself.
The bell above the front door jangled. George Hawley’s bulk loomed through the entry. Hawley stamped his feet and the pine planking threw up small clouds of dust. “Goddamn cold out there. Like a witch’s tit.” His deep-set eyes focused on Billy. “Ye know a little about tits now, don’t ya, boy? Git your share of tits in Baltimore City? Come home with a good case of the clap, did ya?”
“Ye know what I mean. Feels like fire when yer pissin’? Man plants his root in ever damn furrow he sees, well, he pays a price someday.”
“Mr. Hawley, I piss just fine.”
“I jes bet you do, but the piper’s fee’s come due on yer dance. Yer eighteen ain’t you, boy?”
“Old enough to be off warrin’ instead of whorin’. ’Cept yer old man paid some dumb bastard to go in yer place, didn’t he? How much blood money did it cost him, boy? I heard five hunnerd dollars. You think yer life is worth five hunnerd dollars?”
“Sir, I don’t know how much my father paid, but it was all legal.”
“Yer father bought you out of one mess. Now, tell me, have you thought about how much it’s gonna cost to get out of yer mess with my daughter?”
“Had so much skirt lately, you don’t even remember, eh?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Either the next words out of yer mouth are to ask me for my Katherine’s hand in marriage, or I will make you one sorry son of a bitch.” Hawley glared. His protruding jaw ground back and forth.
Billy wanted to run out the back door and down the street and across the bare fields and to just keep running until there was no more light by which to see. “Mr. Hawley, Katherine and I are friends, but marriage is not something we’ve ever discussed.”
“No discussion needed. You either do what’s right or...”
“You’re out of your mind. You think you can push me around the way you do everybody else? Get out of my store.”
Hawley’s eyes sank deeper into their sockets. “Then, I’m gonna plug ya, boy, the way you plugged my daughter, ‘cept I’m gonna use lead. Yer bastard is gonna grow up without a pappy.” Open-handed, Hawley slapped the young man’s face. “I’ll meet you in the meadow below Burnside’s Bridge. Day after tomorrow at dawn. You be there, boy, or I’ll hunt you down like the ruttin’ dog you are and shoot you in the street.”
A gust of cold air blew across the room, the door closed, and Billy Anspach found himself standing alone, the side of his face stinging far more than seemed proper.