Edward Branch, Jr., known simply as Eddie, Jr. is the owner and operator of Branch Motors (Your Branch office!) in Dublin, Georgia, which is the largest population center near where he and his family have lived for generations. They specialize in big American vehicles, mainly General Motors trucks and autos, and most of his revenue comes from leasing fleet vehicles to Bickering Textiles, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bickering Plummet, in Atlanta, which employees a large percentage of the local population, second only to the agricultural plant, also a client of Branch Motors. Owning a virtual monopoly has given Eddie, Jr. much prestige and influence in the community, but he forever feels he’s in the shadow of his father, Big Ed Branch, an attorney, who served for a couple years as a state legislator in the 70s. Big Ed died in 1988, and Eddie, Jr. has hustled ever since to fill his father’s enormous shoes.
One tradition he guards zealously is the family legacy of Branch men playing football for the University of Georgia. Big Ed was the star running back his junior and senior years, lauded for his achievements on the field, as well as his leadership and devotion in his private life. Eddie, Jr., his brothers Clement, Earl, and Polk, all played for The Dawgs, Eddie, Jr. as a fullback, warming the bench for most of his freshman and sophomore years, and finally earning a few starts late in his junior year. He was an uninspired and undistinguished player at UGA, who really only went out for the football team because his father said he had no choice. He spent far more of his four years there drinking beer and chasing coeds, activities he found much more to his liking, careful to be sure he never crossed any lines athletically or academically, that might endanger his position on the team, and thus with his family. He was a fair to middling student in his chosen major of business administration, learning only enough to guarantee he’d know how to hire the right people in whatever profession his family deemed worthy of him pursuing. Socially, though, he was the life of the party, always with a fun anecdote or joke that left his listeners in stitches. He combined this with a friendly smile and a firm handshake, and an easy-going disposition, making him difficult to fluster or anger, much unlike his father, who could fly off the handle at a moments notice.
In the aftermath, of the Charlotte Sanger situation, once Charlotte fled the scene, leaving no trace of her whereabouts, Eddie, Jr. heaved a sigh of relief, though remained wary of the implications of an unseen, and possibly unstable young woman, with child, sulking around in the shadows, plotting her revenge. He called Coach Ricketts in a few days later, for a full debriefing.
“So, you don’t know where she’s gotten off to, do you Coach?” Eddie, Jr. said. He rotated toward the wall in his chair and placed his right index finger to his head. “Hmm, let me think on this a minute.” He suddenly spun back around with his finger in the air. “Ah, here’s a thought. Where’s that fruitcake older brother of hers?”
“Couldn’t tell you,” Ricketts said. “Ain’t thought about that boy since all that mess with that preacher’s son.”
“Well, while you’ve been scratching your head, I’ve been conducting some research,” Eddie, Jr. said. “It may interest you to know one of our top mechanics is a fellow by the name of Dexter Sanger, who just this past Fall was the escort of this year’s unlikely Homecoming Queen.”
“You don’t say,” Ricketts said.
The intercom buzzed. Eddie, Jr. answered, listened, and said, “Thank you, Noreen. I’ll buzz you when we’re ready.” He looked back to the coach. “And that young man is sitting right out there in the reception area, as we speak.”
“Get him on in here, then,” Coach Ricketts said.
“Not so fast, Hal,” Eddie, Jr. said. “I’m going to need you to go hang out in the showroom while we conduct our business. I’ll have Noreen come get you if I need anything else.”
Disappointed, Coach Ricketts rose as Eddie, Jr. buzzed his receptionist. As Dexter entered, Eddie, Jr. said to the coach, “Thank you again, Coach Ricketts. Branch Motors is proud to continue its support for the team.”
He rose to shake the coach’s hand. Seeing Dexter, he said, “Well, look here. I believe this is one of your former players, isn’t it?”
Both Coach Ricketts and Dexter looked confused. Dexter said, “No, sir. I thought about it, but that’s about the time my Daddy died. I had to go to work after school.”
“My mistake, then,” Eddie, Jr. said. “You just got that athletic look about you.”
Eddie, Jr. dismissed Coach Ricketts and invited Dexter to have a seat. Of all the Sanger siblings, Dexter was the one who took most after his father, Ethan, a solid, compact man, with just the earliest hint of a spare tire showing. His personnel file stated he lived in Dublin with a wife and two daughters, and listed his religious affiliation (optional) as “Baptist”. He’d worked for Branch since he graduated high school in 1991, and completed his certification in GMC automotive maintenance, with high marks on his quarterly evaluations ever since. His supervisors mostly referred to him as a “quiet and efficient worker”. He was wearing a purple Branch Motors slip-on shirt, with his name embroidered in gold on the right side pocket, and a Branch Motors baseball cap, with the bill pulled down to just above his eyebrows.
“How you doing, Dexter?” Eddie, Jr. said.
“I’m all right, Mr. Branch,” Dexter said. “I hope there’s no problem or nothing.”
“Not at all, not at all,” Eddie, Jr. said. “Just wanted to spend some quality time with a quality employee.”
“Uh, okay,” Dexter said. He remained rigidly seated.
“Say, you’ve got an older brother, haven’t you?” Eddie, Jr. said. “Brian, I believe.”
“Yes sir,” Dexter says.
“What’s that old boy up to these days?”
“I reckon he’s still living in Atlanta,” Dexter said. “That’s where he was last time I heard anything.”
“You don’t stay in touch?”
“Not really,” Dexter said. “He’s got his life; I’ve got mine.”
“Ain’t a thing wrong with that,” Eddie, Jr. said. “What about that sister of yours, Charlotte? Think she’s gone up there to be with him.”
“That’d be my guess, yes sir,” Dexter said.
“Atlanta’s a good place to get lost,” Eddie, Jr. said. “I’m hoping you might be able to help us guarantee she’ll stay lost.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” Dexter said.
“I’m just suggesting that if you were to hear any rumblings about her headed back in this direction, you might could give me a heads up. That’s all.”
“I reckon there won’t be any harm in that,” Dexter said.
“I’m glad we have an understanding, then,” Eddie, Jr. said. “And if there’s ever anything, and I mean anything that might make your time here at Branch more to your liking, you just let me know, and ol’ Eddie, Jr.’ll take care of it personally.”
“I appreciate that, sir,” Dexter said.
Eddie, Jr. dismissed Dexter, with a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe forty minutes later, he remembered Coach Ricketts was still waiting in the show room.
“Noreen, would you please tell Coach Ricketts he can stand down?” He listened, then shook his head. “That means he can go on home. Thank you, Noreen.”
When Dexter arrived home that night, he phoned his mother at the truck stop. “Ma, you were right. Called me in this afternoon.”
“Well, I hope you told him what he wanted to hear,” Amelia said.
“Word for word,” Dexter said. “If you talk to Brian or Charlotte, tell ‘em all’s clear.”