No one screwed with Mama Roneck.

She didn’t say much, serving primarily as a maid and monitor for her unruly brood following the early death of her husband. When times got lean and the boys began turning to petty crime, Mama Roneck made sure that they were well-fed and well-clothed doing it. Whenever the police stopped by the ramshackle Roneck homestead, she would greet them, serve them tea, and calmly hand out terse alibis that were backed up by neighbors.

It wasn’t like Mama Roneck didn’t reward them for their loyalty. The Schmidts got a gold watch chain after insisting Elmo Roneck had been with their boy fishing on the night that the Philips 66 had been knocked over. Essie Billingsley found Ray and Ernest Roneck sullenly and silently helping bring in her harvest after she’d sworn up and down they’d been nowhere near the ditch where Sammy Carruthers’ torso was found. But while these little gestures were welcome, most folks in those parts would have played ball anyway, carrot or no, because of the stick involved.

No one screwed with Mama Roneck.

One day, as she was wont to do, Mama Roneck showed up at Jeremy and Carol Shire’s little patch. “You were with the boys fixing a wagon last night,” she said. “Swear to it if the cops come by, and we’ll look on it as a favor.”

Jeremy, sick of her demands and with only a silk handkerchief to show for the last time he’d lied for a Roneck, angrily spat his tobacco in his cup. “You’re going to have to to better than your usual if you want that,” he said. “I want twenty bucks this time.

Carol had tried to stop her husband, tried to apologize over him, but Jeremy–fortified by a little hard cider–held firm. He was not telling Roneck lies unless cash was attached.

“All right then,” Mama Roneck said. “Sorry to trouble you, Jeremy Shire.”

“Does that mean you’ll be back with my money?” Jeremy said.

“You’ll get what I owe you, and no mistake.”

The next day, a plume of smoke was seen rising from the Shire farm. When the cops got there, they found what was left of Jeremy and Carol upstairs, in their bedroom. No one could quite get their story straight after that, whether the cops had found evidence that the couple’s throats had been cut, or whether burned bits of rope showed they’d been tied to their bed as the house came down about them.

Either way, everyone was able to get their story straight about where Mama Roneck had been the night before, and where her boys had been the night before.

No one screwed with Mama Roneck.

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