Headlights bounced up and down through the trees as a car drove too fast through the ruts and mud leading down to this small clearing. Little Butch popped the top off a can of Bud and downed about half as the beams snaked between the trees. The thick night air smelled of muck and moss and the not quite stagnant pungence of a slow moving river. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Eleven o'clock and it was hot enough to break a sweat standing still. Mosquitoes craved blood.
Little Butch stood six foot two, and at 250 lbs there wasn't much little about him. They called his daddy Butch; just Butch. His son had been Little Butch since the day he first took a breath.
He squinted now as the headlights rounded the curve and flashed straight into his eyes. Raucous whoops and hollers rolled from inside the car, an old beat-up Dodge, which meant Charlie Dunn and his crew. They pulled in next to Little Butch's Chevy and turned off the lights but left Greta Van Fleet's Highway Tune blasting into the humid night air. Charlie's bass booster was doing its job; along the banks of the Blackwater River small furry creatures cringed in terror.
Randy Jarrett came back from taking a leak. "Company," he noted.
Charlie and Pete Sikes piled out of the Dodge, beer bottles in hand. Charlie's steel-toed construction boots clomped through a thick patch of mud. His long hair was a greasy mess. While he claimed center stage, as usual, Pete stood off to the side like a bird looking for something to peck. Little Butch noticed someone else in the back seat who stayed put.
Little Butch and Charlie weren't friends; during the school year their paths seldom crossed. However, they'd been known to tolerate each other over a beer or two and their moms sang together in the church choir.
"Good Eveningggg, Gentlemen" said Charlie, voice broad and loud. "Fine night to get drunk."
"Most nights are," said Little Butch.
"Man's a philosopher," said Pete. He lit a cigarette.
Charlie did a little dance to the music and sang along off-key, "So sweet, so fine, so nice... " which seemed to be the only words he knew.
"I was up at The Smoke House earlier," said Little Butch. "Joe says you were looking for me."
Charlie paused, as if thinking that one over. "Nah... just asking if you'd been in."
"Said you had a bug up your ass."
Charlie didn't say anything for a second, then laughed. He turned to Pete. "I look like I got a bug up my ass?"
Pete said "Nah, usually it's your head up your ass. No room for bugs."
Charlie slugged Pete in the shoulder and said to Little Butch, "He must have been mistaken."
Little Butch finished his beer, crunched the can and tossed it. Charlie was not a particularly reflective sort; if he had reasons for some of the things he did they weren't always apparent. He could easily be pissed at nine and forget all about it by ten. He was the kind of guy who kept a shit list; once something got on the list, it stuck. Little Butch figured he was on there somewhere and didn't feel like getting caught off guard. He balanced his weight and let his hands hang loose at his side.
"Heeeyyy," came a girl's voice from the back seat of Charlie's Dodge, "what's going on?"
"Who's that?" asked Little Butch.
Charlie and Pete giggled, sloppy booze giggles. "That's Rosemary," said Charlie. "She's half drunk. We'll give her a couple more beers, then we can all fuck her."
"Sounds like she ain't got far to go," said Randy.
"Not if it was just me and Charlie," said Pete. "With you two hopping on, might take a bit more persuasion."
Little Butch got a bad feeling right then. He couldn't help it. When they were younger, Rosemary'd had a crush on him. They used to make out in the choir loft before church. Little Butch had been real sad when Rosemary's daddy died a few years back. She was a year behind him, and as graduation had approached he'd pretty much lost track of her. He hadn't bothered going to the prom, of course, and the long hours he'd been working all summer didn't leave room for much socializing. He wasn't sure, actually, when he'd last seen her.
He walked over to Charlie's car and stuck his head in the window. "Howdy, Rosemary." He had to yell over the music.
"Butchie... is that you." She had too much make-up on. She'd dyed her hair blonde. She was still cute enough to make you cry but looked like she could use a good sleep. "Wow... gosh... been a long time. Where've you been keeping yourself?"
"You know... working up at the quarry."
Charlie hovered behind him, a little too close. "Butchie... Butchie... Butchie..." he mocked.
"What are you doing with these clowns?" asked Little Butch.
Rosemary said, "Partying. What else?" She laughed but didn't sound like she meant it. She was looking at him, but her eyes were half shut and focused somewhere else far off. Then suddenly they found him and locked on. "You still going with Jennifer?"
"Nah, that kind of ended over Christmas."
"Oh gosh... well, Merry Christmas." She started laughing again. God almighty, she was sloshed.
Little Butch stepped back from the car.
Charlie was still having fun with his name. "Butchie, Butchie Butchie," he kept saying over and over in a sing-song voice.
"You okay, Butch?" asked Randy.
Little Butch didn't say anything; he just stared at Charlie.
Charlie and Pete slapped each other on the back and laughed. Loud.
Little Butch looked at Rosemary in the back seat again. She'd opened the door and was struggling to get out. She didn't seem to remember which foot should go first.
"Hey, Rosemary," called Charlie, "come on and join the party."
As she tried to stand up, she slipped on the muddy ground and went down on her knees.
"Ooops! Look here, now—you got to maintain a little dignity, Rosemary." Charlie walked over to her and pulled her to her feet. "Guess we're gonna have to get you out of them muddy clothes, what do you say?
Little Butch said, "This ain't right."
"Yeah? What's the problem?" asked Charlie. He'd dropped the good-times attitude, but regarded Little Butch casually. This was his game and far as he was concerned, it was invitation only.
"I don't know... this don't feel right."
"So go home. We're here to party." He slipped an arm around Rosemary." Aren't we, Rosemary?"
"Let's party," she slurred.
Randy poked Little Butch gently in the side. "Hey Butch, it's just a little partying. You know? It's a Friday night."
"Yeah," said Charlie. "Let's all have some fun."
Little Butch thought about a bunch of stuff just then. Thought about his daddy working all his life at the quarry, his mom hitting ten years at the local Wal-Mart this June; he thought about the football scholarship that was his for the taking; he remembered the mournful look on Rosemary's face when he and Jen had started going steady, how he'd told himself it didn't mean anything.
"Yeah," he said. "What the hell, let's party."
"The right answer!" said Pete. "I believe we have a winner!"
Little Butch said, "You all in the mood for Tequila? I got some in the car."
"I could definitely be talked into it," said Charlie.
Little Butch walked over to his Chevy and opened the back door. His Remington 870 twelve-gauge was lying on the seat. He picked it up and chambered a round as he turned back to face the group.
"Party's over, folks."
If Little Butch had turned green and grown scales Charlie wouldn't have looked any more shocked. Even Randy looked confused, like he was about to say something. Little Butch shook his head slightly, cutting him off.
"Rosemary, you get in my car. Okay?"
"Hey, Butchie... chill, would you? I came with Charlie."
"Well, you're not leaving with him."
"Oh yeah? What, like you give a damn?"
Charlie imitated Rosemary. "Now Butchie, put that away before someone gets hurt."
Little Butch took steady aim, squeezed the trigger and blew Charlie's left front tire to shreds.
"You sonofabitch!" Charlie moved toward Little Butch. Little Butch pumped another round, a sound that'll cut through any argument. Charlie stopped.
"You're crazy. You asshole. You stupid-!" His words backed up like rush hour traffic on I-10. "You done screwed up, buddy!"
"Rosemary, I meant it. I'm taking you home" Little Butch turned to Randy. "You coming, or you staying here to party?"
"Uh... I'm with you, boss."
Little Butch nodded towards Rosemary. Randy took her by the arm. She resisted for a moment, then looked again at Little Butch and went quietly.
Charlie was seething. "Little Butch. Little dumbass Butch." The words gushed out in a thick sneer.
Little Butch said, "I got something to tell you."
Charlie said nothing, waiting.
"My name ain't Little Butch. It ain't Big Butch. It damn sure ain't Butchie. You don't call me that again."
Whatever Charlie'd expected, it wasn't that. "The fuck you talking about? What's your name then?"
Little Butch paused a beat or two. "It's Felix. Same as my Daddy."
"Felix...?" said Charlie, incredulous, about to laugh. Little Butch had the gun cradled in his right arm, but moved it slightly. Charlie stopped. "Far as I'm concerned, your name is 'go fuck yourself'. I'm coming after you, you hear me?"
Little Butch, now Felix, turned towards his car. "It's a small town. I expect you'll find me."
He smiled in the dark as he opened the door, handed Randy the shotgun, and slid behind the wheel. Names didn't mean much. But sometimes, you change a name, other things change right along with it. Funny how that was.