BILLY and KEN-TUCK
The next day, at 6:30 AM I met with the guy who saved my life, Billy, and his partner, Ken-tuck at the
warehouse. We all climbed into the truck that occupied the space that the red lead couldn’t and drove
over to a plant and through the plant to a mill where we—this team of three—were painting the structural
steel that held the roof on 45 feet above our heads. Billy, ‘as in Hill-Billy’, came from Tennessee and Ken-
tuck, from ‘guess where’. They showed me what I needed to do, to work below them, to keep them
They worked on the 16 inch wide catwalk overhead, 35 feet in the air, spraying structural steel with grey
paint. Below, I mixed paint, I poured paint, I ran equipment up and down on ropes, I cleaned spray guns,
and kept the pumps working. What was nice about working for these two rednecks was that they didn’t
expect me to do anything that didn’t need doing, and as long as the paint didn’t run out, the pump was
running, the needles in their guns were clean and the lines ran without kinks, they seemed absolutely
delighted to have me working with them. They called me ‘Guitar’, “’Cause you look lack you oughter be in
some kinda gull-darned rock and roll band with all that hair.”
My third day working with these guys, they asked me if I would like to go above. And although I have
been scared of heights my entire life, I liked these guys so much and wanted so badly to please them,
that I said “Sure.” The eagerness in my voice sounded foreign to my own ear. Who was this kid?
That’s why I was standing on a catwalk, 35 feet in the air working on my spray pattern when a pickup
truck came speeding into the building below horn blaring. Billy stopped his technique lesson and looked
down. I looked down and almost fell. Below a couple guys jumped from the truck and ran over to Ken-
tuck and he looked up at us and hollered, “Shut it down! SHUT it DOWN.”
“Why? What’s happening?”
“Kerik is folding,” they shouted.
We let down our equipment with ropes, tied off the cat walks, made our way down to the mill floor and
piled into our trucks and sped off back to the warehouse. One of informants rode with us and on the way
there explained that he’d seen some tax people go into the offices, along with Kerik accountants and
lawyers and they emerged a few minutes later, and the gist of what they were saying is that Kerik would
be paying off all the big guys they owed money to first.
When we arrived out front, there were pickup trucks all over the place and good honest, trusting, salt of
the earth fellows gathering in clumps and talking animatedly. Billy told the guy who rode with us to go
over and sit on the boss’ Buick and to not let ANYONE drive off with it. Then he went to his own truck in
the parking lot and leaned in and took something from the glove compartment and shoved it inside his
overalls under his belt.
Then Billy and Ken-tuck and Guitar went right into the office. The secretary was there and she seemed
surprised to see us.
“What’s this we hear about Kerik folding?”
“Oh, that’s just…” she looked around behind herself, nodded ‘Yes’ emphatically and continued loudly,
“That’s just a rumor.”
“Well,” said Billy, “We’d like to get paid.”
Right then a guy in an ill-fitting suit with a huge pot belly emerged from the inner offices and demanded,
“What’s going on out here! I thought I told you to lock that door."
“We’d like to get paid,” said Billy.
“Don’t you worry,” said the pregnant fellow, “everybody’s going to get paid.”
“We want paid right now.”
“You’ll be paid on the 15th just like always,” he said calmingly.
“We want paid now,” said Ken-tuck moving forward in a threatening manner.
The guy in the suit eyed him for a bit then said, “OK. I’ll go in and write you guys a check right now.” He
asked the secretary in a courteous whisper to go over and lock the front door and she did that while he
backed smilingly into the offices.
Ken-tuck sat on the secretary’s desk and I sat down in one of the chairs reserved for clients, and Billy
paced around in front of the door the guy had disappeared into.
After what felt like a very long time the guy emerged with two checks and gave them to Billy and Ken-tuck.
“Here you go, fellahs; everything we owe you.”
“Guitar too,” said Billy.
“What? I’m afraid I’m not sure I und…”
“Guitar,” said Billy, pointing to me. “He’s gonna want to be paid today too.”
“Oh. OK,” said the guy, “I see no reason why we can’t do that,” he said and slipped back into the offices.
Garret eventually appeared out of those offices, eyed us critically, spit on the carpet, and walked out
through another door.
When the pregnant guy came out again he handed me a check. But when he started to go back into the
office, Ken-tuck blocked the door.
“Now,” said Billy, standing up and walking over to the man, “You’re gonna cash ‘em.”
“Now, boys, there’s no reason for that. Just take your checks to the bank in the morning and they’ll be
glad to cash them for you.”
Billy looked at the guy; the guy looked at him. Ken-tuck stood there with his arm across the door,
blocking his retreat.
“These checks are perfectly good. I assure you.”
Billy reached inside his overalls and revealed something to the guy. Only later did I learn it was the
handle of his gun.
The guy in the suit, borrowed a pen from the secretary, asked us each to sign the back of our check,
and went back into the offices. Shortly after Junior emerged and leaned up against a wall, with his hands
behind his back, and stared at us. After several minutes of loud voices from within, the guy came out
again, said, “There’s really no need for this,” and counted out what was due to each of us, in cash, on
the secretary’s desk.
“Lock that door again after they leave,” he instructed someone and stormed back into the inner offices.
We went outside and everybody in the parking lot looked to us. They wanted answers. They wanted to
know what went on in there. We said nothing. Ken-tuck made a gesture declaring, It’s every man for
himself, boys. Billy said to me, “Get your car, Guitar, and folly us, we gonna go spend some of this
money while IT’S still good.”
My father told me that after the liberation of Paris the soldiers of his division were each given, in turn, a
day off, to go into town and try to forget about things for a brief moment. When it was his turn my father
went into the city and found a little bistro and walked straight up to the bar and ordered a beer. When
the beer was placed before him, he placed a single note on the counter. It was the smallest thing he had,
the only thing he had, the equivalent of about one month’s pay.
The French gentleman behind the bar made much of the fact that it was a big note, gesticulating wildly,
rolling his eyes heavenward for help, and opening the till to reveal its lamentable emptiness. My father
demonstrated that it was the only thing he had. So, the barkeep shrugged and, making a gesture
suggesting that he might find change in the back room, took the note and disappeared behind some
After finishing his beer my father spoke to the guy behind the counter in his best French, asking for his
change. Oh, but, he was sorry, this French gentleman, but he did not understand what the good
American soldier was trying to say. Did he want another beer? Non? Well what could it be then? What
could he possibly want? My father, first in French and then in English, asked once again politely for the
change. Oh, but, he did not understand, this poor French fellow; after all, unfortunately, he did not
speak English. He was sorry. Regret was written deeply upon his sincerely furled face. He was very
sorry, but he could not even guess what this American soldier was trying to communicate. Perhaps it was
one of those small mysteries that must, alas, remain a mystery.
My father, having just been through four months of unrelenting Hell, happened to be wearing a side arm
at the time, a 45 automatic. So, “just to clarify things” he thought he would take his side arm and lay it
gently on the bar…a mere suggestion.
Of course, whatever your intentions, two pounds of cold steel hitting a wooden countertop can make
what my father called “a substantial clunk”--Clack!, as the French might say--and it raised a few
Suddenly the place went dead silent. As suddenly the barkeep remembered that Monsieur had not yet
received his change. Oh la-la la-la! How could he have forgotten? He ran through the curtains and,
returning as quickly as he departed, laid the change nicely upon the counter. The poor French man
could not understand my father’s French and, unfortunately, he did not understand any English, but that
handgun spoke a language he understood perfectly.
My father was 19 years old at the time, about the same age I was when Billy’s handgun spoke on my