Depending on one's driving style and disdain for the police, home (in Evanston, WY) is an hour to an hour and a half to Salt Lake City, where Pappy was hospitalized. While she understood the value of cattle in the area, is was still country that made Mookie wonder, "What was it about here that made them decide to stop and build homes?"
She would certainly not ask that of Chet. She understood his family raised signature Angus beef, the beef that looks down and sneers condescendingly upon standard, it-came-from-a-normal-cow beef. Mookie may yet ask the difference between the two, but was terrified the answer would have a severe soporific effect on her. She chose to nod, smile, and not bring up her obsessive enjoyment of Slim Jims, especially the big ones.
They parked in the main lot, hit the lobby for information as to Pappy's room, and began the trek to his room. They were immediately shadowed by two security guards, who Mookie tired of quickly. She stopped walking, forcing them to pass, and began following them very closely while humming "Flight of the Valkyries" loudly. Chet finally turned off on a side corridor, and Mookie opted to follow him.
"What were you doing, Mookie?" asked Chet.
"Putting rent-a-cops to their primary use: entertaining me," she replied. "See, security guards are utterly useless. They have no point to exist. Yet there they are, pretending to have power and authority, like.... Like the diet version of small-town cops. Why shouldn't I have fun at their expense?"
"Well, they.... ahh.... control crowds.... at malls, um, and...."
"Stop walking for one moment."
He did, and she kissed his mouth and neck. "You're sexy when you blush, so that's why I do things like that: I embarrass you, you blush, I'm satisfied.
"Could jest try grabbin' my butt. That works every time."
She placed a hand on a buttock, but he immediately removed it, explaining, "I don't want to see my father while i'm, you know, aroused." She felt that was fair.
"Mookie! I am so, terribly, horribly sorry about wrecking your Midget, I don't care what it takes, I'll replace your car, I will make things right...."
"Mr., uh.... Pappy, you didn't wreck my car. Someone sabotaged the brakes.." Everyone sat up bolt-upright while Mookie explained about how they'd gone over the vehicle and found the cut lines and destroyed brake cable. His response was similar to his son's: "Why would anyone want to hurt me?" She again explained that everyone knew it was her car, and that laying odds on Pappy driving the car were fairly low. She was supposed to be leaving that morning, getting in and driving off. Someone wanted her very injured or dead.
Ma said, "It comes down to who and why?"
Whole family groups were eliminated in a shot: they had no idea who Mookie was, just that there was "entertainment"to be had at their ranch. Also, they'd left too early to have an opportunity to sabotage the the Midget. Some had been drinking, but none heavily.... And again, there was no motive, even if the opportunity. presented itself.
Brianna suddenly stood and said, "I'm worried about my dad. I want to check on him. Alright if I take the 150 back to the ranch?" That sounded fine with everyone. Brianna wasn't licensed, an offence that ranked lower than gum-chewing in Wyoming.
Pappy announced he was in need of his pain meds.... A distressing statement, as Pappy was the sort who could get run over with a combine and demand a single aspirin to get back to work. Him asking for real dope was a sad measure of the pain he was in.
With Pappy down for the count, Mookie, Chet, and Ma headed for the cafeteria , to meditate on their current situations. Mookie had feelings of guilt, as if nothing would have happened if she had taken a southern route, or broke down in town, or drove something more damn reliable, or....
Tears began running down her face. Chet (ever the gentleman) handed her some napkins, saying, "He's alright, girl. He's got some mending to do, but he'll heal up good as new." She explained how how he wouldn't be here at all if it wasn't for her, and was strongly dismissed. Ma suggested they continue trying to eliminate those who may be responsible.. They'd worked themselves into uncomfortable territory: members of their own ranch.
The three hands, Mark, Jeff, and James, had come in off the range long enough to watch the main show, each have a single beer, then went back out on what Mookie thought of as "cow patrol," keeping the cattle relatively grouped and eyes peeled for predators. All business, those three. And other than introductions, she hadn't even spoken with them. The Lord had left the chat out of them.
But something that had been uttered was their annoyance at the presence of a "city girl" at the ranch, according to Chet. She had no business being there at all; the sooner her departure, the better.... "Even if they gotta scare her off. They don't know you very well, Mookie." But would they try low-grade terrorist tactics, a method of saying, "We don't want you here"?
Pappy was dismissed out of hand --- why would he sabotage a vehicle he'd drive? Ma may have a personal annoyance and contempt for MGs, but only in the hands of her husband.... And in her own words, "If he came home with one tomorrow, I'd slash the tires that night. But I still love my husband, I am not about to try and injure him." She began to get teary-eyed; Chet and Mookie held her hands.
Mookie? Her and Chet had been together that night when the sabotage had taken place. The company they were keeping needed no explanation. Besides, what goal would be accomplished? Insurance fraud? No, a claims adjuster would find those cuts in moments, write zeros across the paperwork, then contact the police. Insurance fraud, especially involving one's own vehicle, is one of the stupider crimes to ever commit..
Brianna? Just a kid. What would she have to gain? Her dislike of ranch living was apparently well-known (and often vocalized), but there was nothing to gain by putting Mookie in the hospital. If anything, she'd want the car running, in hopes of hitching a ride to Salt Lake, or Reno, or even the Bay Area.
"That's the kind of trouble I don't need," said Mookie. "Harboring teenage runaways would be like doing a fire show with diesel fuel: you'll get hurt, it's only a matter of degree."
They were interrupted by a nurse who let them know Pappy had received his pain medication, and this was a problem. Instead of small doses all day, Pappy would wait until he was in agony before requesting a dose, and it would have to be a big one. "That's how hospitals turn people into addicts," said the nurse. "Perhaps if you all were to speak to him...."
"I've known my share of junkies, I could give him a five minute talk that would keep him off dope forever," volunteered Mookie.
"We don't want him terrified of his pain meds, we just want him to take them in a regulated manner, so he's not having to binge on them to have an effect."
"So, light hits throughout the day. Got it."
After the nurse left, Chet frowned and asked, "Um, Mookie.... Did you ever....?"
"Heroin? A couple times. I didn't like it. And the things I did enjoy, I like to think I've outgrown. Can't do what I do unless your head is very clear. Doing a fire performance while stoned on anything, you may as well dump a jug of gasoline over your head and light a match."
The last person on the list:
Roger.... All three agreed he was conflicted by Mookie's presence. "This will sound egotistical, but I kinda got the feeling he was jealous of Chet that he and I hit it off, that the wrong guy had attracted my attention."
Chet said, "If we're dumping out family dirt, we may as well dump the whole bag. You know Brianna is sixteen, right. Roger is thirty-two. Do the math. Brianna's mama died when she was eighteen."
"Drinking and driving. Brianna told me."
"And racing Roger at the same time. Roger carried a lot of guilt. Still does, I guess. He's protective of Brianna to where she doesn't have much of a social life. He says it's part of being a ranching family, but lordy, a teenage girl should be able to go to the mall on the weekend every now and then."
"Has he dated much since?"
"A few times. Nothing lasted. Maybe that's why he's jealous of you and I getting together."
Ma said, "Ain't that. I'm sorry, girl, but he don't like you at all. As sweet as you've been, he sees you as some sorta threat. He was telling me how you were crazy and would make us all crazy, and he didn't want you around Brianna. I guess he sees you as a wild girl."
"Mookie muttered, "He'd have loved me at seventeen." She cleared her throat and said, "We're kinda back where we started. If Roger wanted me gone, all he had to do was wait a few hours. To hospitalize me would have tied me closer to your family. Y'all are such loving people, you'd have been visiting every shot you could get down here. And I just can't see him killing anyone. He's had enough death in his life for him to consider that to be an answer."
Chet squeezed the bridge of his nose. "I'm on the sore side of tryin' to figure out who would sabotage Mookie's car right now. I'd like to go see how Pappy's doing. With me?"
The TV was on when they walked into Pappy's room. Mookie could tell at a glance just how high he was, but he was coherent and rather animated, so the rest of the family probably couldn't tell Pappy was stoned as hell. She was glad of that.
He shut off the television, reached out for Mookie's hand. "Mookie, I have good news for you. Ma, you're not going to like it one bit.
"Mookie, I have an MG Midget, one of the sport models with the sharp noses, sitting in my friend's shed. I want you to have it. I'll have the boys get it in good running order, and you can own another MG. You know how addictive they are, heh heh."
"And where the hell did it come from!?" demanded Ma. This was not happy news to her.
"Found it in Hemming's Motor News about fifteen years ago. We'd had an especially good year and the price was right. Shipped it by rail out here, drained all the fluids, and generally set it up for long-term storage. That way I wouldn't be tempted to tinker or go racin', and you, Ma, wouldn't feel threatened by me having a new girlfriend. And I still won't, 'cos it's not mine, it's Mookie's from this moment forward. I even kept the registration paid up all this time!"
Mookie sniffled. "Sir, I.... I don't know what to s-say. This is th-the kindest thing anyone---- "
Ma said in a resigned voice, "Please just say yes, you'll take it.. We been married too long for our marriage to be blown to hell over British sports cars." And with a hostile expression but loving tone, Ma said, "And you'll be saving the life of a damn fool old man."
They chatted briefly , with explanations about the proper usage of his opiates. Mookie explained what a rotten thing addiction is, so avoiding the euphoria in the pain meds by taking small doses when you only hurt a little bit would keep him from developing a recreational interest, shall we say.
Pappy looked worried. "Not to be rude, Mookie, but do you speak from experience?"
"Only as an observer, sir. You watch it, your interest in taking part drops. And if, say, Brianna began expressing an interest in pills, I could scare the shit out of her in five minutes: she'd never want another Vicodin again in her life, y'know?"
"Good to know. I guess livin' kinda dangerous has an advantage or two," said Chet.
"Speaking of living, aren't there chores to be done at the ranch?" asked Mookie.
Pappy rolled with laughter. "Keep this one, Chet! She'll make a rancher outta you!"
Pappy got goodbye hugs from everyone, especially Mookie --- "I can't wait to see it, you wonderful man!" --- and they headed for the F-350. Chet was actually sniffling and asked Mookie to do the driving: seeing Pappy laid up, his act of generosity, he was happier with someone else at the wheel. They left the lot and were on their way.