Wayne spent most of his weekend in the fields with the two Hattiesburg pointers, and then on Monday, Halloween day, Bo Gibson called to ask if he would reconsider. Wayne turned the kid down for a second time, and though he was polite about it, when the coach called again an hour later Wayne felt his temper slipping.
“Please hear me out, sir,” said Gibson, and so Wayne sighed into the phone but sat down at the kitchen table.
“I have Louis Carpenter in here with me right now. He’d like to speak with you about this.”
Wayne shook his head and hung up — and then he took the phone off the hook in case the coach really didn’t know when to quit. There was an empty glass next to the sink. He filled it with tap water and then sat back down. The house was silent and dim, and he was thinking about Louis Carpenter. It wasn’t that he had anything against the man. He just didn’t have any intention of being put on display for being something he wasn’t. He’d stayed on the team that year, his senior year, because he liked playing football, the feel of hitting someone. That was the only reason. Louis Carpenter had been a skinny sophomore, and though he would see the field in later years, in that year before Wayne graduated, Louis had just been the black kid on the bench, a kid Wayne never said more than a handful of words to. And it wasn’t like Wayne had made the boy’s life easy. He’d said and done a few things behind the boy’s back that he wasn’t proud of now. Wayne had been among the ones who went off looking for a black cat during that first week of practice with Louis on the team. In the end the best they could nab was an old tiger-stripe gray. They’d thrown the cat into a laundry bag and stuffed it into Louis’ locker, then laughed like all hell when, later, that tabby damn near gave the boy a heart attack.
That afternoon Wayne left the house for the feed store, looking to buy a sack of game-bird scratch for the quail in his flight pen, and he was coming up on the highway when he saw Hector and three other Mexicans standing at the head of the gravel road. They collected there sometimes with the hope that eventually a Good Samaritan would come along, willing to give at least one of them a ride into town. Their boss, the owner of the Christmas tree farm, was a man Wayne didn’t much care for. Once a week the big Wolf Creek van would drive the Mexicans into Homer to do their shopping for groceries, wire money home, hit the post office, whatever, but other than that they were mostly on their own, trapped.
Wayne slowed down and then stopped. The four Mexicans were all looking at him with hopeful faces, and so he caved and waved them over. Hector came to the window, but the others stayed by Wayne’s mailbox, watching. That Oaxacan was not among them, and for some reason Wayne had a vision of the man jogging west across America with his flashlight and his .22, somehow halfway home to Mexico already.
Hector was tall and thin and older, about Wayne’s age, with a wide mustache and sad eyes. He was always wearing what he was wearing now, pretty much — jeans and a thin flannel shirt, a straw cowboy hat that was battered and dirty. “I’m headed to Feed & Seed,” Wayne told him. “If y’all can do what you need to do in under a half hour, come on.”
Hector smiled. “Gracias, gracias,” he said, and then he called to the others in Spanish. They hurried over, piling into the back of the truck, and from time to time Wayne glanced at them in his rearview on the drive toward town. The Mexicans pressed their hats down against their heads as they talked, shouting to be heard against the highway wind, and it made Wayne close to happy to see them happy, like they were all five of them setting off on some joyous adventure.