The Man He Used to Be, ch. 1

by: Marty Chrisman

Luke Duke stopped his work for a minute, swiping his arm across his forehead to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. It was a hot day for early April. There had better be something cold to drink when he got back to the house. Mending fence was a hard job, especially since he was doing by himself. His cousin, Bo, was gone for the weekend helping Uncle Ben over in Chickasaw County build a new barn. The boys were always the first ones asked to help out when a friend or family member was in need of a pair of extra hands.

Luke ran his hand through his thick dark hair and squinted at the sun. He decided it was time to take a break and eat the lunch that Daisy had made for him that morning. He walked over to the back of Uncle Jesse’s battered white pickup truck and sat down on the tailgate. He reached for the white cooler sitting on the tailgate and opened it. Inside he found a 12 ounce can of coke, some left over fried chicken from last night’s supper, some potato salad and some cookie chip cookies. Smiling to himself, he leaned back against the side of truck to enjoy his lunch and rest before finishing his job.

Luke had only been back in Hazzard for about three months after spending almost a year up north with his Aunt Pauline. After the tragic death of his wife, he had fallen into a deep dark depression that had almost destroyed him. He had even thought about taking his own life. It had gotten so bad that Uncle Jesse had sent him to Pauline’s to keep him from losing his mind.

Luke was not fond of being up north; it was completely different from the life he was used to in Hazzard. People weren’t nearly as friendly or outgoing. And there was a major difference in the weather. Luke had hated the cold northern winters. But leaving Hazzard had been what he needed to do at the time. He needed to get away from the memories that haunted him everywhere he looked. Pauline was his favorite Aunt and she had helped him to slowly get over losing Kelly. She had helped him make the choice to go on with his life, a life he hadn’t wanted to go on living without Kelly in it. He still had his bad days when it was impossible not to think about Kelly and the life they had hoped to share.

As her sole heir, Luke had inherited everything from Kelly’s estate. He had sold the house she had bought when she returned to Hazzard, knowing he could never live in that house without Kelly. Even though Uncle Jesse had stubbornly tried to refuse (That famous Duke Pride did get in the way sometimes) Luke had used the money to pay off the mortgage on the Duke Farm. With what was left, he had bought new appliances for the kitchen and a new tractor. The only things he had kept that had belonged to Kelly were her guitar and her car. (Although he seldom drove it since he was usually with Bo and they always took the General)

Before returning to Hazzard, Kelly had had a successful career in Nashville as a back up singer and a songwriter. Luke received the royalties on the songs she had written and published and he owned the copy writes for the material that had not been published yet. Once in awhile, he would turn on the radio and hear one of her songs that she had written being played. That always hurt and brought back the painful memories that were always lingering just beneath the surface of his mind.

Although Luke would never admit it to anyone but himself, he still felt guilty about Kelly’s death. He had been forced to make the decision to pull the plug on the machines that were keeping her alive when the doctors told him there was no hope of her surviving her injuries. She had been hit by a car on their wedding day and died six days later. She was buried in the Duke family plot on the hill behind the barn. Luke still visited her grave almost every day. The man who had been driving the car that hit Kelly that day had been arrested and sent to prison for the rest of his life for killing her, especially since he had confessed and told the sheriff that someone had hired him to do it. But, in spite of a deal offered by the prosecution, he had refused to tell anyone who had hired him. Luke figured they would never know who was really behind Kelly’s murder.

Today was a good day. Raised on the farm all of his life, Luke was used to the hard work involved with keeping the farm running. Although he had a lean build, it was a muscular one developed from years of hard work around the home place. The Duke farm had been in the family for over five generations and as long as there was a Duke alive to work the land, it would stay in the family. It was 80 acres of the richest farm land in the state. Finishing with his meal, Luke jumped down from the tailgate and went back to work.

He never noticed the black sedan parked on the road that ran in front of the Duke farm. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have thought that much about it. He would have recognized it as belonging to a local resident named Pete Madison.

*   *   *  *

Pete lowered the binoculars he had been using to watch Luke with. Lighting a cigarette, he glanced at his companion and said “Why don’t we just do it now? He’s by himself.”

His companion shook their head. “No, not yet. I’ll let you know when the time is right.” His companion smiled faintly “Don’t forget, you’re getting a hell of a lot of money to make sure you do this right”

*   *   *   *

After another two hours of hard work, the job was finished and Luke put his tools in the back of the pickup. Slamming the tailgate, he climbed under the wheel and headed back towards the farm house. Ten minutes later, he pulled into the barnyard and climbed out of the truck. Uncle Jesse was sitting on the back porch steps, relaxing for a spell before getting to his afternoon chores. He was in his mid sixties but looked and acted a lot younger than his actual age. He had white hair and a white beard with blue eyes that sparkled with life. He was a patriarch of the Duke Family. His word was law and was always obeyed, out of love mostly but always obeyed. He had taken Luke in when he was only 4 years old and raised as his own, along with his two cousins, Bo and Daisy. He was the only father Luke had ever known or even wanted.

“You got that fence fixed?” Jesse asked as Luke walked from the truck to the house.

“Yes, sir.” Luke told him with a grin.

“Then you best git to them other chores.”

Luke nodded. Around a farm there was always work to be done and chores were a part of his regular daily routine. There were chores that had to done in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. And Jesse could always find something extra for the boys to do. (And usually did) He had raised them with a firm hand, not hesitating to take a switch to them if they didn’t mind or got into trouble. (And he probably still would if he thought they needed it, even if Luke was 29 years old and Bo was 25.)

Luke went inside long enough to sit the cooler down on the kitchen counter and grab a glass of lemonade from the refrigerator before going back outside to do his afternoon chores. (And Bo’s too since Bo was gone for the weekend)

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