Last week, we left Frankie T and Chet at Applebee’s where Frankie presents a bill marked paid by the local steel company for 15K of Chet’s money, a draw on a barn Frankie T has promised to build.
Through tears, Frankie T explained that his wife had been diagnosed with stage four cancer and had been in MD Anderson hospital in Houston for three weeks, but home now. Chet regretted his anger and asked what he could do to help.
Frankie T wiped away a tear. “Much obliged, but the ladies at the church are takin’ care of us real good. Don’t know what I would do without ‘em.”
He blew his nose into a handkerchief as he handed Chet another invoice from the steel company for twelve thousand. “That’s for the rest of the steel. I’ll start work on getting her up next week if the ladies from church can keep lookin’ out for the wife.”
Chet couldn’t help but notice that the handkerchief that covered most of Frankie’s face had the look of a mask, but he still cut a check, feeling good that he had now paid twenty-nine thousand of the forty thousand total cost of the barn.
Five weeks passed. No framing for the barn. No steel delivered. No Frankie T. Falwell. No answer on phone calls. Chet went to the steel company and inquired about his steel. It seemed that the invoices he had seen were for other jobs for other people that Falwell had paid with Chet's money.
The steel company clerk wondered why Frankie T had asked for fresh invoices with current dates, but was happy to oblige when presented a check on Chet Hunt, a respected name in the community. Nobody at the steel company knew anything about Frankie T. Falwell’s wife or her cancer.
A worker in the steelyard stopped Chet as he was getting into his pickup to leave. “Ain’t none of my business, but I heard about you and Frankie T. He brought a lady to our church some when he first started comin’, but nobody’s seen hide nor hair of her for a long time. My wife and the other church ladies think she’s in a cancer hospital in Houston, but I got my personal doubts he’s even married.”
Furious, Chet devoted his life to searching for Frankie T. Falwell, and found him by sheer coincidence. Both were collecting mail at the United States Post Office in Greenville. Frankie T. saw Chet first and ran for his truck.
He was emerging with a tire iron when Chet caught him with an elbow upside the head and a hard right cross that sent him to his knees. Frankie T. covered his face with both arms and yelled for help. Chet was kicking him in the ribs and challenging him to get up and take his medicine like a man when the police arrived and arrested Chet.
Seems that attacking someone on federal property is a lot more serious than attacking them someplace else. Chet had to hire a lawyer to get out of jail. The post office episode cost him five thousand dollars in fines and legal bills and ninety days in jail. Total cost of doing business with Frankie T. Falwell: Thirty-four thousand dollars and ninety days in jail.
The tip of Burl’s cigarette glowed orange in the midnight sky. “Did he steal the mare before or after he took you for the thirty-four thousand?”
“Stole her while I was in jail. While I was out on bond and waiting for trial, the ladies from his church came out to my house and scolded me for attacking such a nice young man whose wife is dying of cancer.” Head hung in a defeated posture, Chet shuffled on home.
Burl put the final rasp on my horse’s front hoof and straightened. I handed him his payment. “Let’s see if I can sum this up. This good-looking, well dressed fella I saw in Abilene, ropes in one church’s arena on a stolen horse with an investigator from the DA’s office, attends another church where ladies bring him food for a wife who has cancer but doesn’t exist.”
Burl chuckled under his breath. “Then he takes Chet for 29K, gets him thrown in jail and steals his mare while he's in jail. All while he’s out on bail in one county and wanted in another one. Took Bobby Ray Foster and Cole Cunningham for ten thousand when he stole and cut their stud. Cost Chet Hunt three months of his life not counting the money. Don't know if Chet will ever get over the shame of it.”
I led my horse to the lot gate, shook my head as I stared at the ground. “The man managed to turn Chet Hunt into a convicted felon, you into a horse thief, and he’s still traveling around free wearin’ fine clothes. Should we admire him or hang him?”
“I ever see him again, you’ll read about it in the paper.”