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Jack Studder — Jack was a pass-around kid his entire time growing up. He never knew his dad and had no real memory of his mother. Various aunts and uncles would take him in, until they couldn’t stand him any longer. Then they’d pass him on to someone else. Everybody was certain that Jack was on a path leading straight to prison.

Sheriff Jim Studder — Sheriff Jim caught Jack breaking into a store in the middle of the night. While sitting in the patrol car Sheriff Jim explained to Jack that he was actually sitting at a major crossroads in his life. Sheriff Jim locked Jack in a cell for the remainder of the night. Only instead of going home, Sheriff Jim stayed behind in the lockup and kept watch over Jack. When morning arrived, Sheriff Jim took Jack down to the local café and bought him the Big Burrito and eggs breakfast, followed by a full stack of pancakes. The kid was hungry.

As they ate, the two of them shared a few laughs about some of the goofier individuals and regular characters about town. Somewhere between the Big Burrito and the pancakes Jack began to open up. The two of them had their run-ins in the past, but Sheriff Jim always thought young Jack had a good head on his shoulders. The lack of guidance in his life was a shame.

So right there Sheriff Jim laid it out for him: “Only way you’re gonna avoid a long stretch in the penitentiary at Deer Lodge, son, is if you move in with me. Live in my house and allow me to show you a few things. And I can help you get back into school.”

Jack looked at Sheriff Jim in disbelief. Now here was somebody asking Jack to move into his house, rather than getting talked into putting up with him.

“You’d do that for me? Why the hell would ya?”

“ ‘Cause you remind me of myself long ago. Back then someone cut me a major break. No good reason for it, other than they had the ability to do so. Blew my mind, as you’d likely put it. So I’ve always thought that a young person who shows some promise deserves a break in life . . . when it matters most. And right this very second, Jack, is when it matters most for you. Otherwise, you are surely headin’ into a world of serious hurt. You’ll never survive it. You’ll be dead ‘fore you see eighteen.”

“You tryin’ to scare me?”

“No way. It’s just the God’s honest truth, Jack. Choose wrong here and you’re fucked flat. I can’t put it any plainer than that. Yunno. I ain’t the kind to hold back. I call it the way I see it. And most times, I call it right on the money. Yunno, Jack, I’m a long ways from bein’ a genius, but I do the best I can with what I got. I try to give folks a fair shake. I know this here part of the country, ain’t easy on young feller. But when you get out there, see the rest of this world, then you’ll find out what hard times are really about. Ain’t nobody out there gonna give a flyin’ fuck neither.”

Jack nibbled his pancakes in silence. A quarter of the way through the big stack, his pace picked up. Nearing the end, he scooped some huckleberry jam and more maple syrup onto his plate. When everything was gone and Jack seemed about to lick the plate, he looked up at Sheriff Jim and said, “Okay, sir. You’re on. Ya got me. And I sure as hell will give it my best shot. I can promise you that much.”

“Can’t ask for more than that, Jack. You got clothes, belongings and stuff you need to fetch?”

“No, sir. Not really,” Jack said. “I’d like to start fresh, you don’t mind.”

And that was that. On their way home they stopped by the western store and got Jack some new jeans, shirts, underwear, boots and a warm coat and hat. When they reached Sheriff Jim’s abode on the edge of town, Jack thought the place was the most bedraggled wreck of a house he’d ever seen in his young life. “Looks like you could use a little help there yourself,” Jack said.

“Yeah, she’s really somethin’, huh? And, yunno, there’s horses and dogs out back, too.”

“Sweet,” said Jack. And that was that.


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