Sketches From The Heart
By A.H. Watson
The tires humming on the wet pavement sounded much as a plastic zipper might sound unfolding its goodies on the front seat of the old TR-3. There was, however, little but dreams left from the ?Good Old Days?. The Green Machine was tangible hard evidence, that there had been better days?well, perhaps not ?better? so much as, more carefree, more irresponsible ones.
The little car resided most of the time in the garage at the Beach, covered by a tarp of a similar green. It was the last piece of my heart that remained from earlier, happier times. Randomly I would take it for a spin, and it, in turn, would take me spinning back to a time when we were all tall and going to live forever. The sun was never too hot, or in ones eyes; the girls all pretty and eager.
But today, a light rain fell and John, riding beside me, felt as thought it all fell on him. It is that way in a sports car. They are small, uncomfortable, and hard ride for the passenger under the best of occasions. The rain, however, brought out the worst trait of any British car? the windshield wipers.
How, across all brands and size of car, the Brits can insure that every car, indeed, every windshield, malfunctions in the same way, and with the same results, is beyond my rank to understand. But it is true; no English Wipers work? or seem designed? intended to work.
The confluence of socialism, the ?Old Boy? ways, and the British Trades at their worst; I am not sure? I do know that British mechanical things can get you killed in a quick minute, as they have almost done to me, on several occasions.
?Damn Poofers, they can?t manufacture anything with moving parts. Never have been able to. Have you ever tried to listen to ?Masterpiece Theatre?? Even if you can figure out the cockney accent, the whole soundtrack is so muddy you can hardly follow the script. Talk like they have something in their mouth; maybe even a Johnson from ?Old Blue? their college of choice. Hell, at a cocktail party you find yourself leaning toward them when they speak.?
?Jesus Henny!! Slow down, I can?t see a damn thing!?
As I spoke, the Judge had peered out the side window and noticed that he could not even see the side mirror. We had been following the Chattahoochee River up the valley to its source above Helen Georgia.
The fog, heavy clouds in reality, had closed in on this mountain pass, and us. But the judge, until that moment, had been lost in his own thoughts?and his hard on for all things British.
Two dim gleams brightened, then slid by my ear, about four feet higher and perhaps two feet to the left of the small car. Before I could speak the car shuddered in the vortex of the silent, 40-foot truck.
One may meet death quicker and in a more serene way, but it is hard to imagine. In the space of a quarter second, certain death had passed us by. Neither John nor my self seemed the worst for wear?at least on the exterior.
My next awakening came quickly. It is possible to know at exactly where one is?to be so familiar with certain facts?so comfortable in your knowledge that you kill your self while still smiling at your great fortune at being such a clever fella!
I had driven this pass hundreds of times and knew where I was on the mountain. When the truck swooshed by, the aerodynamics gave a brief glimpse of the overlook on the far side of the road, then the clouds closed tight again. Quickly, gambling that no additional truck was approaching, I swung the wheel of the little car to the left trying to clear the left lane as rapidly as possible. Feeling the lane was behind me, I raised my foot to the brake. In that instant, before I applied them, a rough bump accompanied by a rapid stop and the soft sound of rocks falling through the damp air, brought my green machine to a halt.
Perched heavily over the 300? foot gorge, trout stream below, the little Triumph seemed to pause in indecision; our weight, a counter to that of the engine now, well over the short wall.
Without speaking the Judge and myself bailed from the car. Edging up to the gorge on the left, I was attempting to see if we could pull the car back from the edge when a rock, from some unreliable cretaceous period, crumbled and the car began to slide toward the depth of the canyon.
I only remember in slow motion what happened next, though it happened in the blink of an eye.
The car sliding by my right leg caused no panic, just the realization that my little friend of some thirty years was to be no more. But in that same instant I felt a tug at my rain jacket? at my pocket ?then the material ?then myself?I began to be pulled toward the edge. Standing, I had not the weight or the leverage, to stop my motion. For the second time in less than two minutes my life was at the forfeit of God and man.
At that moment I was hit as hard as I have ever been hit?football game, or fight. John knocked me to the ground and held on. He had in a instant seen the danger and had pushed me hard to the ground? Pushing me TOWARD the edge of the over look! Looking back, it was the only thing that could have worked.
John did not merely reach for me and try lamely to pull at the rain jacket. He locked his body with mine and drove us both to the bottom edge of the low rock wall. Standing, we both would have followed the car to the bottom of the gorge. But, by forcing the metal chrome to attempt lifting some 450 lbs up over the wall by fabric of the rain jacket its self, in a dead pull, he had forced the fabric to give way and leave us in what would seem to some a strange type lovers embrace.
Before we heard the final screech of metal, John had dusted himself off and said in his most judicial voice.
?I assume you meant for us to exit the car?. right?Hen??
?Well, it was a thought, but I hate to be hurried like that.?
Later sitting at a picnic table waiting a ride on in to Hayesville the Judge turned?
? Hen, I meant to tell you, but things got busy??.. It fell off.?
?John, I am not even going to look down. I thin???
Looking disgusted, John interrupted. ?Not your pecker fool?that little piece of toilet paper. The one that had been on your face all morning since you picked me up.?
?Fell OFF! Fell Off? ? Twice, my ass is a gone?er and you are talking about my personal hygiene??
?Well, it is next to Godliness. Seems you could find something better than toi??
?It wasn?t no Toilet paper damn it! It was a piece of Kleenex??
?You Boys need a ride?? The old Ford pickup pulled in as the clouds had lifted. The Judge and I had been trading recriminations and blames for a thousand days of past mistakes. But, my heart just wasn?t in it knowing that I was standing there only because of Johns quick mind, and unthinking willingness to sacrifice.
?NO, we are having a picnic?.
With that the pickup, with two morose sows in the rear, drove off.
?Damn It, Henny! You never learn. A mountain farmer doesn?t DO irony, or even smart-ass, for that matter. What?s wrong with you??
?Never mind?I know. You saw that there was only room for one in the cab; that one of us would have to ride into Hayesville, with the pigs, in the rear of the truck. That?s it, isn?t it? And you knew you would have to let me ride up front cause I had just saved your sorry, worthless life?isn?t it??
In Town: two hours later
Sam stretched his long frame from the desk and pulled up an extra chair in the Sheriffs Office.
?Ah, yes. I thought it might just be you two when that farmer stopped by and told me there were two crazy people out on the mountain. We just don?t see that many capes around here Judge. He said the other was a smart mouth. Funny but I couldn?t think of any, but you two shit kickers, that it could be.?
?You mean you let us sit out there two damn Hours? Two hours while you sat here drinking coffee,? the Judge had sputtered back.
?Been busy Judge working in your behalf. I?m going to miss that little green car?It sure was your better half?eh, Hen? But knowing you would need transportation I have lined up a real steal for my buddies. Want to take a look??
Outside in the police lot was Ford LTD of unknown vintage, as it came from those many years where every Ford looked the same. White, at least in the spots where there was no rust or ?hanger rash?. While the tires held tread, they had been re-treaded so often that the sidewalls had begun to rot. As I pulled my self up from inspecting the tires, the Spotlight ripped off the door.
?Thanks Hen! That?s police property and needed to be removed?couldn?t leave that with your fine automobile. You know, just in case you did something that might embarrass the Department.?
?But the stinking outline of the City Decal that can be read?that won?t? Damn Sam, what kind of fools do you think we are? Don?t answer that, yet. Not until you tell us how much you want for this bag of bolts.? I had stated in a voice all but quavering.
?Pocket change, my man, mere pocket change. How much you got on you??
?Close to Three hundred but I am not pay??
?Nor could I take that for it, Henny! You wouldn?t want you old friend to be jailed for theft of public property would you? ?How about You Judge, any spare change?
With the Judges ?change? we paid damn near $500 bucks for that heap. Only to find later, that it was on its way to be given, free of charge, to the orphanage. Later still, we found out that Sam had bet the Mayor 100 dollars that he could get $200 in hard cash for that mangled wreck!!!!
Sam?s last words as he threw me the keys had been??Hen, watch her on the inside curves she has a tendency to head to the barn, so sort of push back with your left hand as you turn to the left with your right. No problem, you will get the hang of it on the first Mountain. It is the Outside curves that made this bitch famous though, so watch out!
Old Frank, that drove her right up to the day she killed him, named her ?Galloping Girty?. On outside curves she doesn?t ever want to EVER come back to centerline, so pull hard down with the left hand when turning right. If fact, hooking your left arm under the arm rest can give you some additional leverage.?
?Enjoy???Got to run will see you tonight.? And with that, Sam was out the door.
Later in bed at the cabin
?It should have been brown?
?What the hell are you mumbling John, can?t you sleep?
?You should have uses a bit of brown Kleenex on your face?
?Jesus!! Do you want to talk about this morning or what??
?Do you mean do I wish to discuss that life ?no Living? is as though God put all souls in individual little bubbles and released them in a nail factory? What?s the point? He owns all the bases ?so to speak. Henny, some times the poor soul burst his own bubble with his own sharp stick of stupidity, or malice or even desire. Most times he just bumps into a nail along the way. Even God, I imagine, gets Sooo pissed at times that even he throws rocks.
That is the only explanation for some things that happen. Cause if God is THAT cruel by nature, then most of use can just swivel stack our weapons and go home.?
?It has nothing to do with God, John. I am still here by the grace of you?not God.
Like the poor Davidson man that died because he knew Bill Clinton, do you honestly believe I would be here today had that bastard been in the car with me? You know better, I know better, and any that would think for just a moment, knows better.?
?Well, OK Hen, have it your way? But, who put me next to you in the car??
Much later:(So late and quiet: one could hear an Owl in a distant hollow)
?They don?t make ?Brown,? John? I asked once.?
?I assumed you had, Hen? I would have though no less of anyone so organized, as you, that they change to straw hats and black & whites?the first day of spring.?
?Night, old friend?
Say your prayers.?
©2003 Andy Watson, all rights reserved, reprinted here with permission
A Kind Of Love
By A.H. Watson
We were in the den; the fire putting out that slow soaking heat that one dreams of when in a duck blind and the sleet is blowing. Sam, the Judge, and myself were having a ?small libation,? as the Judge prefers to call it.
We do this often, it seems, when my wife is in Atlanta for the evening Playing duplicate bridge. There is never any discussion or mention during the day of the coming event ?Things just seem to fall into place.
I am sure you have such relationships in your life also.
We are discussing things that have had meaning to us; you might say even things we have disliked but learned to appreciate. The question turned to love and if such things could properly be considered? in the same light.
To discuss this I must briefly describe the events that promoted the thoughts. It is not a funny story or one that may even hold your interest?. It could be made so, but that would be cheating and belie the very question the three of us seek to answer.
Long ago I fell in ?infatuation ? with a woman I could never have ?or that even wanted me. It was brief, pathetic, as I sometimes see it, but real. Oh! So very, very real, that the heart but bleeds again. In moments of quiet or even times of sorrow, when I wish to remove my mind to another time, a happier time (though gut wrenching it may be), my mind tracks naturally and with out thought to those spring days? long ago.
There is no thought that this was love, but what of Leigh or even myself for that matter? What of her feelings toward me; And I toward her? Was that love? Does what we have now constitute love?
Is love so fragile that it can stand no blow? Does it simply change to another type of love? In fact is there more than one kind of real love? I don?t mean in the sense of the Greek Eros or Agape, but rather one that still encompasses sex, desire, and compassion with fidelity of spirit?
It is my belief that love changes with both age and knowledge; that many of the problems of youth, particularly today, but to some degree in the past, are the product of surroundings. This is no new breakthrough I am aware, but never before in history has so much of society railed against the very institution of marriage. The dysfunctional family is now called ?Nuclear? as though the pressures of the day are simply too much for the average human to bear?as though working families were rare in the past and ?latch Key ? kids have some sort of pass to act in ways detrimental to society and their own best interest.
Love, like life, has become no more than an excuse for excess. At least my infidelities carried the weight of crime and the attendant guilt and recriminations. Acts for which, even in those far-gone days, required forgiveness, as absolution was a ticket only purchased in the larger more catholic cities.
In the small towns hard-shelled Baptist, mopy Presbyterians, Methodist full of Angst and devil may care Episcopalians ruled the day, absolutions was not on the agenda.
My sojourn in the North was brief, upon my return I did not bring gifts, flowers or other attempted bribes?only myself.
I expected no quality of forgiveness, or even a lack of concern at my waywardness. Leigh told me that she would forgive me?but never forget?
She has done neither.
My infidelity resides, much like the ?12th man in the Texas A&M football lore, on the bench, available at a moments notice should the discussion not go her way.
It has been used to win arguments as serious as where the children attend school and as mundane as carrying out the trash. My infidelity has been a constant and loyal friend to my wife for almost thirty years.
I have remained, not out of a sense of late found honor, but a real love for my wife. I don?t in truth know what my wife feels. I do know that many things in life are habit. Man exist on habit?indeed he thrives and require its existence for easing the burdens of daily living ?and loving.
I have loved my wife since the day I met her. We have fought from that day forward. Much as children, most of our unhappiness was self-induced: attempts to win all the marbles, all the time?to rule.
In our first years, I am now ashamed to say, my greed, my insecurities, won the day. But soon, as with many women, came the bargaining, the sexual bargaining if you please. Sexual favors were swapped with little grace. Trips to the store for Ice Cream; washing the dishes, anything but actual cash!
I like women, always have. Much like the homosexuals that I know, I prefer women?s company to that of men. I like the way their minds work. The way they move. The way they smell or smile.
When a man finds himself in such a fix, bargaining for sex at home ?and many times loosing, as the price increased. You are brought to the realization that there are several kinds of love or, at least, reactions to love. One?s age, one?s up bringing, even one?s education tend to prescribe these reactions.
There was a time I could hurt Leigh deeply. I often did. My own insecurities needed constant attention, I had little time for a young bride, herself somewhat spoiled, perhaps even scared. If, as Gibran says, Ones happiness resides in the niche carved by ones misery, my wife?s pleasure should have been legion.
Today, looking back over those distant years, my mind turns from the utter ass I must have been. Over time, the hurt I brought to my wife, created calluses upon her soul and today there is little I can do to surprise her or gain her attention; no matter how benign or even caring it may be.
It is though the heart was made of aluminum, not meat and gristle. It can be reshaped, repaired, but each blow is visible, each hurt still there for the eye to see? and ear to hear.
?Judge, you want another drink while I am up? How about you Sam, need that topped off??
Sam stretched.. handing me his glass, ?well, don?t move too far Sam, wouldn?t want you to strain anything. Lord! What would my Daddy say me waiting on a Negro like this??
?He be liking it Henny? Sam often dropped down into the vernacular when making a point, ?He loved me mo?better than he did you!?
Smiling, Sam jiggled his glass and said,? be off with you my man, and make it a good one.? How many years had this been going on?thirty? Ever since my Father sent us both to the same school a few years apart. We were referred to as the salt and pepper brothers. If our friendship withstood those stormy years, no smart-ass remark can shake it now. ?You sure you aren?t half Inj?un Sam? Damn if you don?t drink like one?
?I guess you want my expensive Grouse Bird Scotch??
?I do indeed bro.? I do indeed. Nothing but the best for your old Tonto here.?
?Why? So if you upchuck it will have more class??
The Judge had waited through this quick match, as he often did, in silence. He stared at the flames licking up the side of the new log. If people didn?t know these two they would think they were fighting. Long would be the day for any one that jumped one of them? in that mistaken belief.
Without pausing to frame the statement, the Judge said simply, ?Henny, I have been thinking about our discussion the other day. I think you are wrong. Man may be saved through grace, but never truly forgiven by a woman.?
?Well, John, I don?t know. You mean that a woman is incapable of forgiveness?or that she is just too butt headed to let the man off the hook?? I turned to Sam to gain his approval, but received only a scowl and a mumbled, ?Leave me out of this one Hen, I Don?t have no dog in this fight.?
Laughing, the Judge said, ?Maybe not Sam but damn if your buddy Henny don?t have a whole pack running at his heels.?
?That?s not fair Judge, You know me better than anybody in this life and you know that isn?t true. I have always been vertically faithful; never ran around on Leigh. Hell, I never even experienced a woman of ill repute?or wanted too. Every woman I have ever known has been a woman I could have been married to?well, most anyway. They have all been smarter than me, and fine looking creatures, most are still friends today.?
?Henny, Son? there in is your problem, you love?em, but you don?t have the gumption to leave them. You keep wanting to bring them home with you.? The Judge smiled as he remembered some ancient entanglement of Henny?s. ?I am surprised Don Fowler never shot you. Hell, I am surprised Harriet didn?t do it herself. I wonder in the literature if it says how many men have been caught out by and old flame?while cheating with another woman??
?Judge you know none of that was of my doing. For gods sake! I dated Harriett before Don even met her. She was the one that blackmailed me into coming over that one time. It sure as hell wasn?t my idea.?
Sam had moved to the window overlooking the creek that separated John?s property from mine, ? Was that the lady that was following you, and you didn?t know it? The one that caught you and Doris together that time Dick was on the west coast??
Looking directly at John, while answering Sam. ?For a black man and and another old friend to be beating up on me like this is discouraging, but especially so, knowing that my mind carries sufficient knowledge to have both of you banned from church and maybe even ridden out of town on a rail. You are both thankless heathens in my book.?
?Henny, all men sin, but you buster have damn well turned it into an art.? The Judge laughed, then smiled at Sam and said, ? Sam, maybe old Hen has a point. We give him a hard time but the old boy just didn?t have a thing to do with it, them ladies just came and jumped in his bed.?
?Weren?t no bed as I hear tell it, Judge? more like some rutting teenager in the back of the car, from what Miss Mary told me.?
By A.H. Watson
You will reach a time in life when your future is in reality your past. That time will come to you as it has to me. When is does, you have lived one day too long.
The act of living is the search?the wishing. It is, indeed, even the unfulfilled dreams that haunt us all. The most outlandish, the most unobtainable dream, remains as a constant beacon that move us forward; Past burned hulks of mistaken marriage, love, or misplaced trust.
If I could save you but one disappointment, one deed, for which in time and energy you were not too distant to correct, to make right, it would be the hurt you brought another? a friend, a lover, a trusting other.
Last night, drinking with the Judge, I fell into one of those dark holes. In Passing, the Judge had mentioned my nemesis, ?Big Mama?, my Mother in Law; dead some twenty-five years now.
As a normal response, I never thought, just blurted out on any occasion her name surfaced?I responded so this time ?
?She was some kind of bitch, that woman was. I?ll give her that. She stayed on my ass for five long years. John, I?m telling you, I couldn?t wiggle without her saying, ?Henny you should have waggled back there, ?wiggling? is so low class.? Drove me crazy she did.?
John sucked on his pipe; then stared down the muzzle of the damn smelly thing as though he was looking for a large rock or some other such impediment. He sucked twice more then, as most pipe smokers try, started punching at it with the expensive fountain pen on my desk?then he sighed?
?You have said that crap so long you believe it?don?t you? Do you remember anything as it happened, or do always cut and fill till you get the answer you wish??
Taken somewhat aback by the Judge, I started to give another flip answer but looking at his face I could see he was serious. John stood, put his half finished scotch on the desk; patted me on the back and headed for the door. Pausing, before leaving by the patio door, he turned saying?
?Hen, that?s raw spot, isn?t it son? I would put something on that if I were you.? With that, he was gone. Leaving me alone with the burning logs and my old memories?alone as I have ever been.
Day of days? holiest of Holies; my mother in law is coming today. The only thing unusual about this ...is this time I know. Usually I don?t. It is as if the tides in the affairs of men, those that Caesar mentioned, have come full flood. My mother In law, hence forth, aka,? Big Momma?, or BM for short, arrives usually on the heels of some other cataclysmic act; a Nuclear strike on Washington, riots in the streets of Hennyville., or the Braves getting Maddox more that one run.
Let us reason together, I do not dislike my mother in law, there is insufficient heat in mere hate?death wishes run counter to my sacred beliefs, and as you can see... word fail
. Examples? I am not sure there are any. I have done this so long that it is more natural than breathing. The reasons long receded into the mist. There must have been a time when I knew? WHY? Surely I would not carry these feelings, simple because Big Mama is an angry, sarcastic, memory bound, woman that gave my wife that peculiar hitch in HER "git a long ".
You see the battles were never fair.
Fighting my wife on certain issues was not unlike working a fish up stream to the net. With BM here, however, the flow of the river doubles?no quadrupled. Much like the volume of a pipe. Winning any battle was not rare, but impossible and I ended the day worn to a frazzle by the depth of the water and damn boulders that seem to find their way toward my head.
Mama would gird for battle by killing an eating a small rodent in front of me, just to show she was ready for anything I might try. When once I accused her of using a jawbone of an ass to flail me, (she loved biblical quotes) she looked me up and down and said? >p> "Shit Henny, the only ass in THIS room is you. How many times have I told you not to come to dinner in a damn undershirt...Jesus Christ! You think you are Brando? Newman? Let me tell YOU something badass, my daughter was deaf, dumb AND blind, when she chose your fanny.?
I told you she liked to quote scripture?didn't I?
I had noticed a change when I picked her up at the train station. Yes, we are blessed with Am Track. As long as you pick your ticket in say, a time block of a year, there is a chance you can take the damn thing.... but if you need to get home in the same calendar year?forgetaboutit...take the bus. The only thing less promising is air travel...as they say,? if Poland had an Air Line it would be ?American?.
Big Mama was quiet; said she would like to stop for a drink? just us; before we went home.
I then, remembering now with great remorse, said?
?BM your favorite pick up place doesn't open till nine, and bless me, I just don't know where all the old farts and drunks hang out this time of day!?
This was unfair, in that I had never seen her even tipsy, and actually, for a near fifty year old woman, had some legs that reminded me of a reporter I once knew...fine, just simply fine. How do women do that?
We took a cool, dark, booth in the corner. In the middle of the afternoon there was no crowd, and the martinis soon arrived. ?Henny, I am going to cut to the chase partner. It has taken me, with a little help from Leigh, five long years to train you. Do you even realize what a mess you were? Eating at the table in a undershirt; biting you finger nails; drinking just to get high; the neckties that would get you killed in some good neighborhoods; shoes? never polished, particularly the heel; wearing your straw hat on the back of your head like Jimmy Olsen; Going out to change the oil, just before the minister or guest came for cocktails. I declare Henny, It was almost more than a woman ?No! ? TWO women could handle.?
But look at you now. You know wines, but not so much that you act like an ass. Why last year, I saw you get up for a woman and give her your seat! I never thought there was much hope in your case Henny; I guess you know that after all these years. You can carve a turkey at the table; you don't need do it in the kitchen, like some Plummer!?
?Why Honeybunch, last time I was here, you gave a toast to ?A Honored guest". I thought for a moment? it might be me?
But it wasn't? was it??
With that she whistled through her teeth and the waiter scurried over.
?Hen, don't ever do that, Sugar?its gross and low class. ?But what the hell, today is special.?
Looking at me, and just as I am telling you, BM said,
"Buster, I'm dying. I don?t? want Leigh to know just yet. It can't be stopped, but they haven't given me a time frame. Ass Holes don't know anything, or they know everything, but won't tell you.?
?Soon now.... they Have told me that?but soon now; maybe six months.?
"Henny, I called this meeting cause I have spent too damn much time molding you to be a ?good scout?; a good man for my girl. And son, it grieves me to say this, but you have turned out pretty damn good; better that I had cause to expect. Baby, you were just so helpless?so young.?
?All I am asking,? she said, standing and putting a hand on my cheek," is that you don't back slide when I'm gone. That there isn't another voice, that you see a chance to do things the old way ...OK??
?One thing I do know?your word is good ...Promise?"
I didn't trust myself to speak, so nodding away like a recalcitrant child, with my head turned away from her that she may not see, I thought briefly of the night I didn't toast her, and turned to face her, my eyes flooding at the memory. For a moment there was a slight pressure on my arm, then we were outside in the late afternoon shadows.
Big Mama died that March. Her daughter was spared much of her agony, yet had sufficient time to spend her last days at her bedside. She had left word for me not to be allowed to enter. Told the Doctors that it was a ?woman thing?. But, as I sit here in the den polishing my shoes with particular attention to the heels, I know better. Till the very end she was thinking about me. The difficulty I would have facing it, and carrying my end.
I still wear a coat and tie for dinner, even if there is just the two of us. While memories of my own family have dimmed somewhat, Mama glows steadily in my mind each day as I dress, look at my nails? or act in any way society might consider civilized.
The fire has burned low now. The cool night from the garden has invaded behind me and my body takes on the physical attributes of my inter turmoil. My back is chilled; yet, my face is flushed from the hot embers and thoughts that race ahead of themselves >p>. Big Mama had been, not some mouthy bitch, but a class act, far above me in both station and grade. It was she that had the traits I found so appealing; I had thought at the time they resided in her daughter.
It was my mother in law that danced and drank with me, that showed the love of life, the clear mind, the sense of fun and excitement. ?Auntie Mame? to the core.
A fine cut of a woman, never to be seen again by me. And yet, I treated her as only a spoiled, muddleheaded jerk can.
On the morning?next to the milk, on the front stoop, was a bottle of wine and a note from the Judge.
?Don?t feel guilty old man ?I loved her TOO!!
Murder in Hennyville
By A.H. Watson
?SATURDAY MURDERER, SLAIN? - The screaming headline fell harmlessly to the floor in the Judge?s study...
The Judge?s mind reached deep, after two long years the man ... boy really, that had committed the heinous murder of three women out in the county was dead. His death would be discussed for years to come. As the Judge well knew, so would his part in the drama that had the town quietly but realistically on edge?for these two long years.
Sam, the police chief, had come over to warn me that the county and the Sheriff were on the warpath; that nasty things were being said in the County Court House about me, by those that did not know me well.
"Judge, god knows, I think I understand, but the Yankees and the political hacks never will.... Your releasing Hank Sparks on his own recognizance is just more than some can take. Not me, mind you, but a number of the powers in the County may see this as a way to get at you after all these years. Damn Judge, he had killed his own son. Now he has upped and committed suicide. The very day you let him go...It looks bad Judge?Hell, it is bad. "
?God! I wish the Mayor were here?, I thought.
"You think he knows about it? "I said, speaking to no one particularly.
?I doubt it Judge. If you haven't heard from him, I doubt that anyone has."
Time seems to run together. Isn?t that often the case when one deals with items that, while important, are not ones that one wishes to think about more that is absolutely necessary? But for my friend Henny the murders in the county had become an obsession. He felt that the FBI was inept and in the hands of a bungling, self-serving, Politically Correct, fool. It had driven him to leave town for the week.
Two years ago, around this time come to think about it, there was the murder of a housewife out in the county. She had been assaulted (sort of), strangled, and left with strange objects in strange places. No need to go further, just accept that is was strange, but not particularly brutal, as you see in the cities so often. I am not implying that the deaths were not horrible,. it ...it is just they seemed to lack the singular hate and brutality that you find in most such crime.
In the late summer, I remember because Dove season had just opened, another woman was killed, closer, but still far from our part of the county. This crime brought out the police from the state offices. Even the FBI sent a profiler to Hennyville.
Looking back, that was the point where Henny seemed to take a powerful interest in the situation.
?It was after the FBI woman had given a long lecture to the local police and the Mayor, that Henny came an sat right where you are Sam?....
Sam squirmed, looking around to see if he were about to be rebuked by the long gone Henny. " Well Judge, what did he say?" v"Oh Sam, I don't know that it matters so much now, but I had rather let Henny tell you some day. I will say, however, The Mayor had no use for that FBI snit...that?s what he called her?, the judge laughingly said?"the snit".
Martha Hayes was the perfect woman for the new FBI Henny said, black, lesbian, and stupid.
"Jesus Judge, if she had but one eye and were Jewish?those bastards would have covered PC the water front"
She was the typical Government worker that thought she could NEVER be fired. In fact, she seemed to have seldom thought at all. For sure she never thought "out of the box ".
She was pig stupid?The FBI knew it?The State knew it ...Hell, she knew it! I'm not shitting. One day she told Henny when he was pressing a point about the crimes.
"Well damn it sir...that is NOT what the book says, therefore, that is not what I am paid to think about. All this, you...you be talking about? Just who would do this crime here in the south?and who wouldn?t? It Just makes my head hurt...I can?t make sense of a thing you are saying. I am not going to listen...You are not in charge of this case?I AM?and I will damn well do what I want!"
From that day, Henny became frantic. I don't know what he was doing all that time, but I do know he was out in the county at night. Hell, if some of the Yankees that are now on MY case thought about it, heck, they might have blamed the crimes on Henny.
"Sam, several weeks ago, Henny and I sat here in the den. We had a few drinks; But I knew he wanted was to talk...to tell me something.?
?Did he up an just say that? No Sam, but some days Henny would come to the house, or we would be out fishing; we might go three hours with little or no conversation between us. But had you ask either of us, I am sure we would have said, we talked and agreed on a number of things that day.
And so it was with this visit, Henny never out and told me. I don't even think it came up directly.... but this is what I figured he was trying to say?
Henny knew who the murderer was.
Henny had spent weeks staking out this persons house at night ...He never caught him doing anything that was criminal ...weird, but not criminal. But then, this was one weird kid from the day he was born.
But as Henny said, the boy was never a threat, never mean or noted for sexual perversion of any sort. On two occasions, he left home after the others were in bed and had driven the byways of the county. He slowed at some homes, but never stopped at any house or business. He would then return to his place well before the family awoke. Henny began to look almost exhausted himself, from his own loss of sleep and worry.
Henny told me that he had made some arrangements to warn those that he felt most in danger?if indeed there was any danger. He knew little else to do, as the danger seemed so remote. He further knew, if anything, his action in reality would become an alibi in the hands of crafty lawyers, for he could testify to no criminal acts on David?s part.
In reality Henny knew the heartbreak such an accusation would bring to the family a man that was both a friend? and a man of great honor and substance. That once voiced, such words of suspicion, could never be recalled or overlooked.
His family?s roots transcended the Great War and even those of Oglethorpe; the man that populated Georgia much as the English had Australia, with drunks, thieves, and buffoons.
Hank Sparks was of the Southern aristocracy, born not of money but of honor?where a handshake was not a greeting but ...a word kept for eternity.
To the non-believer, those never washed in the river of pride, Hank might seem like a slow man, a man of no substance. In reading that you would be dead wrong.. Hank graduated from the Citadel in 75, farmed some 3000 acres that remained for the original Land Grant from the King (James, I believe it was, of bible fame), some 25,000 acres in the mid 1600 's. Running a farm requires much more knowledge, ability and yes, even prayer, than say a drug store or even one of your ?Captains of business? enterprises where you have a ?yes? man or two?to do the actual work.
Farming is a complex task, requiring many levels of skill not found in the average college graduate. Hank was such a man He was liked for his ways and respected for his achievements.
The day Dave died, the Mayor was out of town. I was at home half sick with a cold.
The chief had not reached the scene of Hanks sons? death for at least thirty minutes after the County, with the FBI in tow, arrived. They had received their notice from Mable, Hanks wife. She had called to say that her baby was in the barn being punished by her husband and would some one come help.
"Judge, what makes me so all fired pissed is that they had Hank on the ground hog tied and treating him awful. They said they had found him sitting quietly with Dave's head in his lap, eyes closed and quiet as post.?
Sam said,? I don't think he ever spoke after that. Did he ever speak to you Judge? Even to thank you for releasing him with out bail??
Quietly the Judge looked away.
"No Sam he never thanked me.? Smiling to himself downheartedly, he wondered if he would ever get to speak to Henny about all that had transpired?and the things yet to come.
Hank had wasted no time, once released, he had returned to the barn. Never speaking to Mable in the House, he evidently sat down on the hay bale where they had found him?and completed the act that the snide little bitch from the FBI had stopped him from completing earlier that day. The act that Sam or any Southerners would have understood and almost to a man, approved.
Life often ends?long before one stops breathing.
Mad that Hank?s son did not meet the profile of the killer she had so artfully woven; A profile so wide and non specific that almost every one on the county OTHER than Davey could have fitted it?
The ?the snit? said. "You bastard! You killed your son to keep us from catching YOU?didn?t you?didn?t you??
Standing there screaming her ignorance and prejudice at the top of her incompetent lungs, as Hank was led away.
Rosie Plays The Game
Rosie surveyed the shop.
It was a morning like many others, but the room buzzed with the news and conjecture of the events that had roiled the County and the town over the weekend. If you did not know these people?and most certainly Rosalie Winters did, you might say everything was normal, "copasetic 'as the song said.
But In the front of the room the tradesmen and route men talked low with their heads together. It was not of horrible customers, or women hot to bed them?the subject of most mornings. It was the low whispered talk of men not part of the community and not certain of the relationships of those locals near them?also having their first cup.
As Rosie continued to gaze about the room she picked up the faint nuances of gloom and unease. She noticed the Judge and Sam at a table alone. Moving quickly, she forgot, for a moment, her own unease about acts performed during the preceding weeks. It was these acts, these moves that ate at her own soul, and made necessary her hurried trip to the Judge?s table.
Sitting without being asked, an act so unusual in itself, neither the Judge nor Sam, had time to stand or to hold her chair.
"Keep your seat fellows. Judge, I need to talk to someone?. Then turning to Sam, ?Sam, excuse us for a monument if you would.?
There is little in Hennyville that is either a secret, or worth being a secret. The town is insular, yet, too open internally for any information to be withheld for long. Sam, looking at the Judge in puzzlement, moved toward the counter.
"You are worried about what the Mayor told you," the Judge offered, smiling at Rosie for the first time.
?Jesus Judge! How did you know? Henny told me that he had told no one, but I guess I should have known " "Rose, Henny never told me a thing. Just to watch after you and keep you safe. And, that if you came to me? to tell you it was alright to share.?
?You can't live close to a man for forty years and not know SOMETHING about him, Rosie. Henny seemed to know who this horrible killer was?but had no proof. No way to get any until he tried to strike again.? He couldn?t tell the Chief because it would compromise his sworn duty. If the FBI woman was to start, it not only could ruin an innocent family, but also allow the real killer to get away in the dust up.
"Oh Judge I know! Henny gave me a list of women he wanted me to contact quietly, and give them a message he had written down. With this last death, the poor woman was not on the list, he had mentioned that she was the right age, but she lived too close; was too good a friend of the family. She couldn't be told because she would not believe. She would tell Hank and his wife.?
?Judge she is dead!'
Killed just as the rest, but more brutally and with seemingly no attempt to hid a bloody trail to the barn. Davy even called his dad at the house to come down?that he was tired, and needed to talk to him.
Rosie placed a crumpled note, written in the Mayors large round hand, on the table. It was simple ... to the point.
"...Ladies?standing in front of you at this moment is a woman I have known for most of my life. I have ask her to stand for me to day because she is a woman like yourselves; a person to be in what I believe to be.... a small but very real danger for the next few months. ..........Two women have died?Women of your age, early thirties; women that alive were attractive and have had some casual grouping with a young, local, man.
If you promise not to say anything to him, Mrs. Hatcher will give you the name and further explain how I came to the belief you may be in some small danger. And what you may do to protect yourself. Remember there is no proof of this person?s involvement and to speak of it could cause grievous pain to an innocent person. Yet, while this is a small danger to you...I believe it to be Very, very real. Any such mistake is entirely my fault and one for which I alone shall be held. But remember, carrying this tail, starting rumors beyond what you are learning today to protect yourself, can only make the eventual capture of the person whom ever it may be, that much more difficult than it has to the present. I tell each of you this at some risk, but I cannot stand idly by when such life long friends are in danger..."
"I didn't know Henny could BE that brief, Rosie,? the Judge said.
?Well, he wasn't that all fired brief, most were things he told me to tell the women. Why they were possible picks and how they had been chosen and just why they could only be warned.?
"Rosie, Henny had spoken to the FBI woman on two occasions. Both times he was laughed out of the room and told he was working the wrong profile, that he should stick to something he knew like being Mayor?if, in fact, he could even handle that job; the FBI would handle the crime.
By the time he came to you he was on edge from lack of sleep and the certain knowledge that someone else would most likely die before the year was out."
Looking back, what Henny had done was protect what he considered "his own" to the best of his ability. He had been to see Hank, but as unable to state bluntly that he thought his best friend after me, had a son?a son that could?and in fact did, murder women. No man could handle that, especially when there was NO direct or indirect proof that pointed toward his son Dave.
In the end it was those traits found in the south; those attitudes and acts that on her best day, would never have been understood by the FBI profiler. It was what Dave had NOT done....
It was those things?those Southern things that had glared unblinkingly at the Mayor.
Looking out on the lawn that separated their two homes, it has begun to rain. The Judge thought, is it too much to ask that it wash away our sins; our inability to save one of our own. Watching the rain he knew it not nearly enough? it would take a flood. He felt further that wherever the Mayor was.... Henny too, would be looking at water. If?if Henny knew that the woman killed had been Pat Hightower.
Pat Hightower, a county neighbor a friend of all. A woman that, like the others, had given Davey odd jobs from time to time when ask?cutting wood, gathering pecans, watching the children even. ...Many others also had Dave into their homes for small jobs. They were near the age of his mother about the time she began to loose touch, to have spells and small hallucinations.
The Judge remembering back one spring day, they were in the barn. Henny had told Hank a hundred times that he was going to run off with his neighbor Pat...they both would laugh. But that day, clear as a bell the Judge remembered Dave only looked down, and frowning left the room. At the time he had meant to ask Henny or Hank about Dave?s funny response. But he never got around to it, so small a thing?but now so large
If Henny KNOWS that it is Pat dead. Dead in her kitchen, fresh cookies covering the floor; there can be no comfort, not in this life, not tomorrow?not ever, thought the Judge
Oh Henny?buddy?friend, I'm glad you are not here, but I wish I could be with you to help share the pain.
But knowing himself, his friend, and the South and all its many peculiar ways; He knew that his friend was embarking on a journey that can only be traveled alone. A trip reserved for those that both lived life hard, but also held it dear to their heart.
Oh Pat?Henny... What God though this to be?his amusement for the day!
Henny Preys And Plays
The large business envelope had arrived that morning. Addressed to the Mayor at the general delivery in town, it had stayed, unopened, for most of the day.
But now, with the rain falling in sheets, It lies open, rapidly turning back into pulp... ink running and staining the bamboo table next to the chair and disappearing into the small swimming pool attached to each villa. Though the alcove was covered, it was no match for the blowing rain and mist?
Henny seemed not to notice.
If you have never been to Las Brisas, it is a wonder, somewhat dowdy after forty years, but one of the truly unique spots on earth. The resort consist of individual cabanas stretching down a high cliff, until you reach a secluded and private beach and outdoors bar/ restaurant servicing resort clients only. Each cabana has a private poor and patio, surrounded by tropical foliage and flowers. Each pool, though not large, is secluded from sight of you neighbors in near by cabanas. Your breakfast is placed each day in a special insulated box at the front of the cottage. Evidently at the same time fresh flowers and petals are sprinkled upon the waters of the pool. As the Mayor might say, Maxine Waters would even find it hard to bitch.
Henny had stared at the thick letter, unopened, most of the day; much as you might a letter from the IRS. There was little need for Henny to open the letter he suspected, what could it say that I didn't know or suspect?
As the storm clouds gathered at sea, the mayor opened the Judge?s letter. The Judge had not lied he did not truly know where Henny was; only that he could be contacted in this manner.
Expecting a jumble of words, words he himself had used over the months, he was brought up sharp as the Name "Pat Hightower" jumped from the page... Twice he read the letter.... the words. Twice he started over. Was the Judge telling me Pat was dead?
Not Pat! ...Oh god! Not Pat? It could not be. Dave, like us all, had loved Pat. She had been a mother to Dave, when Dave's own mother beca...
It hit him deep inside at that moment, a place only he could go.
How could he have missed it! ...How in God name, could he have been so stupid not to see! From here he could now see it all. To late to save his friend, perhaps to late now, to save even himself; it made perfect sense.
Dave, the crazy love sodden fool was killing Pat all along. It was not until Hen had cornered him, made the other deaths..The other sacrifices unreachable, that he had turned to Pat...
WE BOTH KILLED PAT..."David in his sickness...and me in my utter disregard of the signs and an arrogance of deadly proportion. Henny sagged in pain and defeat.
I had spoken to FBI bitch?told her what I had learned about Dave sending money to the family of the second victim. The note that said he could never keep money the victim had paid him, as it just didn't' t seem the thing to do.
Our ?friendly Agent? had said, how southern that was,? to have a sense of false pride and, to falsely care so much for women, make such a big deal about it.? Not stopping, again she smeared family and ancestor worship stating that it was probably what was holding the South back from the rest of America. All the weird Ancestor worship and thinking Southern women were better.
As I remember, I told' Miss Profiler ' that my ancestors had helped Chris Wren build the London Parliament Bldg. and the tower for Big Ben ... wasn't really sure about the last one, but I doubted if she even knew of what I spoke... I paused and said, "Gee, why don't we get together over drinks and compare what our ancestors WERE doing around 1680. It should be fun. Bring some from your office and I will get a few ?Hennyvillians? . A cold," hate whitey veil "came down, a look many of us have seen over the last few years...as though measuring me for the pot!
Wanted to ask her just what made Missionaries so damn pot prone.... tender ?soles?? But decided to wait for the discussion to ask THAT question...but is a puzzle. Isn?t it?
Looking down at the distant beach, I was trying to picture just how I knew it was Dave. How I knew it early?and in my bones.
Yesterday, laying around soaking up sun, there was a woman of unknown age next to me. Her skin had taken on the color of deep mahogany. It could grow no darker; yet, in my own eye I could see her turning brown...I could feel her brown ?though no physical change had taken place. To me she seemed dark to the bone, each day adding another hue to the unseen layers.
Lying there besides her, stewing in my own juices, burning hot to the touch. I could remove myself to her mind and felt the cool heat soaking through. At those moments, I honestly believe I could experience from inside out the emotions she was feeling.
The pictures she showed, I assume grandson, brought motherly feelings to my own breast. The rum drink coursing through Sonia?s (I now knew her name) blood, seemingly coursed through mine; making me all but tipsy when I arose for dinner.
This is how it had been with Dave and Hank, I simply KNEW. It was not the note he sent, the FBI woman could never be further from the truth.
NO Southern man would send such a note. The thought of bringing back memories of the tragedy was too great. Men let their women do those things, and as goofy as Dave's mom was. No Southern woman would forget how to write a note. It is just not possible.
The only thing left is that Davy just wasn't home anymore. His senses, his good southern senses had gone for a walk, as we say...and never returned. Those nighttime drives had been a case of revisiting the sites where he had worked or done good neighborly things. But because I had been forced to follow from such a distance, many times by the time I arrived at the spot where he put on brakes, there was too much time lag, and I could not pick out the spot he had paused.
The rain had finished the letter, environmentalist would be happy. Well, as happy as the terminally miserable could be. It had returned the pulp to every thing but a standing position. No owls would crap in its branches for sometime, however, Henny thought randomly...
Anything to get one?s mind off the raw emotions of Pat and the dank foul taste that constricted the throat and made rank, every breath Henny took. The Rum was gone, but reaching for the Tequila, always in ample supply, Henny noted it was much easier, no trips for ice or coke?Simply a lime, the salt and the bottle.
Imagine, if you will, the courtyard at an old Army Fort. The singular strike of the drumbeat as the wronged, but still honorable Hero, is slowly in cadence of the single beat, marched from his life and friends.
So it was with the Mayor, Lime, salt, bottle in a slow rhythm, as Henny drummed himself from the Corps of man. The rain still fell, out over the sea at the edge of his universe. Henny saw the clouds breaking, thunder rolling, almost with the sound of distant laughter ...If he could but reach there, the promise of a new day. Surely such laughter portended something good, something fresh.
In the end, it had been the flowers, the damn flowers, which had saved the Mayors life.
In the pre dawn light, while spreading petals on the pool and returning chairs to the upright after the Typhoon, as they were now calling it. A worker had noticed a pile of pool gear and clothing heaped at the far end; as he moved toward it?a bony arm raised an near empty bottle?and slowly look a drink.
Waiting for the door to be opened, I remembered it had been only three days since the call had come from Henny's wife Leigh.
"Judge, the airline just called and ask how long Mr. Penny wanted the plane ticket to be left at the Delta counter?"
"Its all a mistake Leigh", I said reflexively. "Let me have the name and I will check up on it, OK? "
That simple call had led to my standing here, in Mexico, in Acapulco; Enraged and fascinated by the acts of my friend of long standing. Having called Henny in the Hospital, listened to his explanation and then ungraciously saying I would consider it, I had called Bill Hightower and made the seemingly long trip to his farm.
Bill was not a close friend, I doubt that I knew him or would ever know him well. We all know people like that..Don't we? People, that are in an out of our lives with no effect upon it. Bill was that person.
All contacts with the family were made through Pat an outgoing and active person. Bill, hell I guess he thought life was just.... a larger pot roast or a Saturday morning, fishing show on the telly...the fishing show they run evidently day after day.
The one where Clyde says, ?whoa big fellow! Just look at this fish, what a beauty" The poor fish had been pulled in so many times in order to get "just the right shot," that drooped on the boats floor boards, it could make its own way to the fish well...?thank you?!
Bill was a gray man. As I stood at his door that morning I could not help but reflect that he was dressed in a gray shirt, gray hair falling around the collar, and gray work pants. His shoes, marching to a different drum, were a snappy brown.
When I called the Mayor, he had suggested that I phrase my questions as though I knew ...knew the truth, and was waiting for only final confirmation. I told Henny in NO uncertain terms, if I did it at all, and that was far from certain, I was fully capable of my own questions.
Later facing Bill Hightower I heard him challenge, "Well, what is it you want?" Looking directly at the man: wife dead less than a week, I cannot believe I said the next words.
"Where is the note Bill? I know all about it "
Bill?s face now blending with his shirt and pants, shrunk both in statue and poise, began to cry. And me? a crusty old Judge? Not having cried since that awful telegram those long years ago, I found tears rolling down my ancient cheeks. I Damned Henny for putting me in this place, but knew it had to come out for the sake all, but especially Bill.
I looked at him now crying, crying for all men that had ever loved?yet been unable to say it, or make it understood.
"Judge I didn't know, but thinking back, I could see her lying there in a white blouse and skirt; wearing Her mother?s bracelet and necklace. The only time Pat wore that outfit was when she was going to Atlanta. I begin to look, and there it was on my tackle box next to the bed. I found the Small suitcase in the back of her car. But God damn it Judge, she had stopped to make my favorite cookie and that's where Dave found her. "
Henny had guessed it all?all but the cookies. So there will be some things between us after all that can never be spoken. But hell, the other arrangement was too good to last.
The county police and FBI had never looked for anything along the lines we have just discussed. Sam on the other hand, mentioned just the other morning over coffee, how well Pat dressed to make cookies. But a look at each other, and we both moved on to other topics.
The door swung open. Henny, standing athwart, twenty pounds lighter said, "Hello John, I have thought of you daily. Tough trip. No? Lets trade secrets?
Well Hen, just no telling when I will start keeping secrets,? I said.
"Oh Judge! I know you? you couldn't keep one if your life depended on it?
"Well then Henny?can you spare an old man a drink?"
The Judge Speaks
Moving through the airy, well appointed living room, Henny and I settled in the alcove containing the wet bar and numerous bottles of Liquor.
?Judge the liquor is on me, but if you open the splits of "Jonnie Walker "you are in your own pocket. The place practically gives you the Rum, Tequila and Gin, but those itty-bitty bottles of Scotch are $90.00 bucks each. You can date half of the town for less than that."
"I have NO interest in dating half the town Hen. "(Drawing up in a physical, rather than verbal snit)
"Judge, its Henny, rambler of old, through thick and thick we have traveled. Are you denying me? Remember the disciples and the mess it got them into."
"Mayor, I did not come all the way to Mexico, to this forlorn, god forsaken land, to swap stories of our youthful indiscretion," the Judge groused.
"Yes you did, you old goat. You couldn't stand it. That you may not know the whole story was getting your goat!"
Henny was right, of course, at least partially. Though I knew the bones of what had happened, I did not know the full story. Henny had said it was harmless, which had been a poor choice of words. I could tell by the way he paused, but decided to go on, knowing that I knew he was not that crass or thoughtless.
John Jr. (he always started with my Christian name if he wished to change the subject or was asking a favor)...
"John, this is not about me"
Meaning that every brick and nail of what was to come WAS about him, thought the Judge, (now know as John?for at least a spell), he smiled at the thought.
"Damn it, John this is no smiling matter. There is Bill to think of; the precious memory of Pat, and then there is Leigh."
" Well, I de-c l a r e, Henny you are even worried about Leigh? I am glad you got around to it... a little late for that isn't it,"Sports Model?? (So you will understand, that is what the old goat called me, when he had me down or caught in a net of my own weave)
"I think we can be more serious here John." (Fixing both of us our third drinks) "Sarcasm is not your BEST suit, I thin..." Bursting in.
?Sarcasm??SARCASM? You?you twit! You my best friend, screwing around on my distant neighbor?another friend.?
A small aerosol of salvia glinted in the shaft of Mexican light. Henny for a moment was mesmerized by the view and thought?Is THAT what the painters mean when they speak of light from an eastern window being the best for the artist.
"Look at me Henny, what the hell was Pat coming to Acapulco for??
?Aw, don?t answer that ...good god almighty Hen! You will NEVER cease to amaze me.?
Granted enough pot roast and Bill would have never noticed or probably cared, but I saw him cry for an hour.
Me, ME! ?God damn it; having to stand there and pat him on the back and tell him to just get it all out. That suit is ruined, flat ruined. You KNOW how much I paid for it? Hell no! YOU don't know anything but where your dick is evidently...and you damn well don't know where to put that!" Headed to the drink cart the Judge turned to add one more thought scrambling to get out...and by God you didn't even get laid?you got her killed you miserable son of a bitch. "
What he said was true, every word of it, and the words from my closest friend stung; Strangely not as much as my own thoughts, but sufficient to evidently have changed my looks and facial expression. ?Aw, Hen, I'm sorry ...that was too unfair, you had no way of knowing that she would die. I'm sorry "
Don't be John you are correct, but for one thing: I did know that she was in extreme danger, I even thought she might be next "
The Judge moved to the side of the patio, looked down, then across the sea. Then after what seemed like hours said with a broken heart.
" Oh Hen, I wish you had not told me that. Tell me you didn't know "
But Henny was lost in his own memories leading up to this evening; the sound of two old friends drifting apart had evaded him. Why was She still there? How had Dave gotten to her? Why was she not on guard? She should have been on the way to Atlanta, and Mexico City. He never even heard the Judge.
Henny's Turn, At Last
Standing on the patio, in one of the worlds beautiful places, the two old friends talked past each other. A lifetime of agreements, accommodations to the other, fell apart. No mutual act or past endeavor seemed possible from newly found positions. The Judge acting as evident arbiter of all holy saying,? but you had no right to manage peoples lives!"
Shut up John! Don?t interrupt me. If I wander, wait, if I become confused don't correct me..LET ME FINISH ONCE AND FOR ALL. Then you can think what you will.... What you don't know Judge, what you have refused to understand is I had no choice.
"Quiet Judge, Its my turn now."
Two nights before I left for Mexico, I had staked out Hanks place one more time. The car never left the barn. Dave was not out on the road checking his victim. Or was he? Just before I left, around one a.m. there had been something in the pasture, at the time I thought it was an animal, a cow perhaps, up against the fence.
You remember in the Army how they taught you to see a little at night by not looking directly at the object? Well it works a little. When I tried it, looking toward the cow, there was no animal in sight, but there seemed to be a faint blur rounding the barn. Nothing I could swear to, but it could have been a person. It disturbed me so much that when I got home I went to the den and called Pat.
Pat answered, but Bill was awake I could hear him muttering. I told her that I just had to see her in the morning. Acting a little strange, almost coy, she turned and asked Bill if he was going to the cow sale tomorrow, then told me to come about ten.
I sat by the phone for some ten minutes thinking. What was it I had heard in Pats voice? I couldn't place it but knew I had experienced that sound before, But damn, I just couldn't remember if it was good or bad. As you know John, I haven't been sleeping well. That night was no better. But I had no sooner gotten to bed and Leigh came in, something she seldom did. She said simply, "Hold me Henny." And I did.
?Women are funny animals, Judge.?
"You mean John don't you Henny??
"Jesus, Judge...?John?, "Judge ", its all the same to me." The judge smiled and moved to the dinning room for coffee.
"Go on Henny".
Well that isn't much to tell really. Went to the house next morning and told her she was in danger. I told her that I would leave a ticket for her. She should get her sister in St. Louis to cover for her and come to Mexico with me; to not bring much as there were limited things to do, but there was swimming in your own pool.
I thought this might appeal to her. Told her to leave a note telling Bill that she had to leave for her sisters, and to be at the Airport by 2 pm. If she weren?t there the ticket would be at the Delta counter.
She told me that she just knew that Dave couldn't be the one doing these horrible things and that what kind of woman did I think she was running off to Mexico with Hennyville?s known rogue.
" Not this Miss Pat" she offered??Thank you!"
John, when I left, she said she would think on it, but that she could go to her mothers for a few days. She asked if I would really be waiting with baited breath to see if she would show.
Hell, my head must have been in a dark moist spot, but I said sure. Thinking about it again...it had its points and ol?Oscar began to think for his on? self. In fact Pat did have great legs, hadn't seen a pair like that since a trip to New Your Brokerage House one time?but to keep? Not hardly.
As Daddy said " Some women trod paths better traveled alone; too many nooks and dark, unexplored crannies of the soul".
So I get to Las Brisas, talk on the phone to you, but never knew that Pat had died until I received your post. I killed her Judge, as surely as having swung the hatchet myself.?
"Well yes, Henny, but it is beyond me to know HOW you know these things.
Standing, looking inward for a moment, Henny said, "I don't know either Judge.
Then in an almost carefree tone,
"Judge I am going to introduce you to a woman tomorrow, her suntan goes right to the bone, she said she loved lawyers...they are So?So?Unpredictable.'
"Well there is that too," the Judge laughed--the first time in a long time. He wondered just how he was going to tell Henny that the note Pat left had said....
"Bill I am leaving you, the Mayor has ask me to Acapulco for the remainder of the month. I want to test my courage, to take one last chance at really caring and laughing. I Love you Bill.... but it is just not enough. It takes more.
Sometimes I wish you had beaten me?something, to let me know that you know I am alive. Well I am buster! If this doesn't work out, well, maybe you will make another bid. Smile Baby, the TV is now all yours, and you mom can come fix all these meals I could never learn how to do "just right"
In the end he could think of nothing better than to reach in hi pocket and say.
"Henny, I hate this, but you need to read this, old friend".
With that the Judge moved to the patio, leaving Henny alone with the letter and his thoughts.
Times like these are not measured in hours or even days, but rather in the more solid and tested means, that of number of drinks, limes or even trips to the head.
When Henny emerged he looked better than I would have imagined. He walked up to me with a grieved look and DAMN if he didn't burst into tears.
Patting Henny on the back I could not help to reflect that this was twice in the last?what, three days? This time I was comforted by the realization that my suit was not in danger. Just a "Flail the Whale" tee shirt I had brought with me and slipped into?while Henny read.
I stayed another two days and returned with" Sonia" written in my small all-purpose note pad. Along with the smell of "Sea breeze" and 'Noxzema' wafting from my every pore, the pad also contained notes on a half planned trip to New York for the fall.
In the end? all men have feet of clay
I know that many of you consider Hennyville a mere backwater in time ? a place stirred only by the faint summer breeze or an occasional frost. But we strive to please, to bring the nuances of city life to the locals. In fact, that was the theme of my last election bid, ?Let?s make Hennyville a town of which we can be truly proud?let?s add parking meters.?
But that was defeated, as damn near was I, and we have fallen back into our normal torpor.
That changed yesterday - Hennyville reached for the big times; we had our first ever bank robbery. The following was taken from the written account; no meat was added to the mix?only notes of clarification and a wee bit of fat, for taste.
High Noon in Hennyville
By A.H. Watson
The wind blew tumbleweeds down the busy street of downtown Hennyville.
A long block away - almost at the other end of town - the round ball of brush bounced from the front of a slowly moving green and white, vinyl toped, ?77 Thunderbird.
Moving slowly past the supply store, the gas station, two closed shops, and the hardware store, the car stopped close to the town?s major?and only bank. The nose of the vehicle, if one were to be accurate, was actually in front of the combination city Hall and Police station, North of, but hard by the bank?for protection.
As told to me by many - and not too confusingly I hope - is the story from the mouths of those involved, but first let me give you some visual references that may be of use.
Hennyville is located at the very edge of what is called the sand hills. Those being deep rolls of primeval sand - some hundred yards thick. This edge is a long ridge of good Georgia clay well suited for construction and travel.
Imagine that - if you had a washboard in front of you - the sand being the metal folds in the board. Hennyville would be built along one side, a thin ridge of red clay?this is important to grasp.
The car, of a strange green tint sported ?low-riders? and a white vinyl top which flapped in the light breeze. It cruised to a slow stop in front of the bank. The driver emerged but the two passengers, on the sidewalk side of the car, remained seated. After a brief conversation the driver re-entered the car and it moved quickly north toward the end of the block which was also the end of the town proper.
For those not familiar with small southern towns of any decent age, they have a particular trait not found above the red clay line. For many years the main streets of these towns remained unpaved. As such, after each rain, it was necessary to refinish the road by scraping the ruts and mounds back into a serviceable condition. This was achieved by applying a mule drawn, and later, a motorized road scraper. Once shaped and crowned the southern heat soon produced a roadbed as hard as present day concrete.
One minor aggravation was that each such renewal of the road caused a small loss of road material thereby lowering road level. Much later, when the road was paved, it presented the town with fine highway?but one that sat some four feet below the level of the sidewalk and town buildings.
Not being completely devoid of technical competence, the town elders soon placed granite blocks at random spots along the walk that allowed one to reach the walkway level without having to either walk to the end of the block, or in some less than dignified way, crawl up the blank wall to the sidewalk level.
When the green T-bird glided to a smooth and outwardly cool stop in front of the bank, the out-of-town guest could not leave the car as the doors were blocked by the 4 foot wall.
Feeling possibly that they would be dissed if forced to fanny walk the length of the back seat, the driver decided to hang a U-turn returning to street?s far side? at normal curb height.
Norm Harris explained to the paper later, that when he looked up from his grits and red eye gravy at The Four Star Café across the street from the bank?
?Well, I tell you Jim, I looked up and this funny green Ford had stopped and three Negroes removed themselves ?Yeah, I mean ?got out??but the FBI said ?removed? ?so they removed themselves and proceeded to ?egress?
?Same guy?that?s right??
?They went in the bank and came right back out and drove off?Nah! I didn?t notice much but the three wool caps and the one guy with the stiff leg that had to be helped up the step at the bank. But Shebang!! When they drove off, out come Robert, yelling and all, with most of the bank ladies behind him.?
Billy Barns had been sitting with Norm and said he never noticed a thing till later cause he had been watching the red eye run down Nom?s shirt when he dropped his biscuit in the small puddle in the middle of his grits. Billy said that about the time he and Norm and ?Po Man? Boles - who had been sitting out side waiting on Norm to take him to cut some fire wood - got to the street, and damned if the green Thunderbird didn?t come right back passing between the victims of the heist and the unbeknownst posse.
The dudes by now were no longer looking ?cool,? but rather sweaty, having just remembered they had been heading the wrong way when ?de-egressing? Hennyville. They had been force to turn around at the end of the block. While turning around they had become momentarily stuck and forced to, again, ?de-egress? the car and push. Later, they claimed some little old lady driving down the middle of the road had forced them into a ditch. The sheriff, upon hearing this, smiled for the first time that day. He, himself, had abandoned the street for the library lawn once when facing Mss Agnes on her way to the bank.
This early return had not been cool thought the now ?WANTED? bank robbers, hoping, maybe that the FBI would use the ?good? image in their files for his post office snapshot.
Standing for a few minutes - both in awe and a slight daze - the street crowd, comprised of both witnesses and the recently robbed, stared at the receding Thunderbird.
As if hit with one unanimous idea the crowd broke for the trucks and cars.
Norm?s new ?all everything? truck, with cab behind, 450 HP, 20-disk changer, was the closest?and the boys piled aboard. It was a mixed brood consisting of two Good Old Boys, two rednecks, and ?Po boy,? the resident white trash.
Po Boy had naturally jumped into the front seat. Billy told him as always, ?Po boy get you smelling, shit kicking ass, in the back of the truck.?
?Aw, Mr. Billy, I done got here first.?
?Is this your first vote Po boy? You decided to wait until the most exciting day in Hennyville?s history to debate me??
?Jesus, Billy, pull his ass out of here and lets go.? Norm had leaned toward the other window and yelled. ?Tell him it?s the back or nothing.?
By now Robert and several others had started the chase in Robert?s Lincoln. Norm followed the trail of oil and un-burnt gas from the Continental which had never been fire walled in its benign history.
Allow me to interject two points here before entering the chase. As the bank was next to the police station, you have the reason to ask just where was the policeman that was on duty. The duty officer the day of our Lord Feb 19th was Winnie Hover. At the insistence of the Municipal Association, Ms. Hover had been hired to water down the many claims of male preference. Her acts the morning of the robbery were the grist underwriting the many attempts to dump her sorry fanny at the time.
But being Black, one eyed, and having promised to take up the Jewish faith, we hired her. This was against better judgment and with much nascent complaining by both staff and the town. The morning of the robbery Ms. Winnie had decided to sleep in. Her shift started at 7AM and promptly at 8 she had started out the door?but the phone rang. Leaving the keys to the station in her pocket book at home didn?t help much either.
Women are a burden in law enforcement.
Following the blue haze from Robert?s car, Norm looked around the truck. Billy, perhaps the best shot in the county, sat next to him willing the truck forward with his straining body, and feet all but running in place. In the truck bed, holding to the roll bar for some semblance of stability were two of the red necks from the lunch counter, and Po? boy town white trash, yelling, ?let me at them niggers, just you wait till I catch up with them.?
?Tell you what Po? boy?if we do catch up, we will let you tell them just that?just let you walk up and say it.?
?I would pay to see that?, Harold yelled across the truck to Ned. ?About time someone whipped his ass, and I believe these may be the fellows to do it.?
In the rear, Po?boy trying to bring forty years of civil rights and political correctness to its knees in one feel swoop, in the front Billy reaching behind him feeling for the gun-rack turned enough to see the .30 cal Marlin carbine.
Remember when I told you about the washboard? Well, think of the chase like three marbles being rolled across the ripples in the board ? up-and-down like valve stems, sometimes all into view at the apex of the hills, sometime all hidden in the valley. Across the sand hills they sped.
Some five miles above Hennyville the back road on which the cars raced, dead-ended in the main highway. Having passed the Country Club, Billy?s own turkey farm and the water plant, the green Ford found the intersection. Robert arrived first and as the dust was settling he yelled at us, ?You boys be careful he just fired and hit our car.?
Billy grabbed the Carbine from the rack behind his head and dove for the ditch on the far side of the highway. The green Ford had cleared the ditch by some twenty-five feet and was mired in a freshly plowed field.
Turning on his side, much as they do in the movies, and with a rush of oiled sound - much like a zipper closing - Billy chambered a round and fired. In the quiet of the resulting ?Dink,? a puzzled Billy reached for the end of the rifle. In doing so he turned it side ways and noticed the small leather loop on the receiver.
Billy screamed at Norm, ?You dumb shit!!! You gave me a Red Ryder BB gun!!!?
?Billy when in the last few minutes did you hear me say grab my sons toy and go attack a mean-assed bank robber holding a AK 47? Just tell me that and I will apologize!?
?Good shot though?I think you hit him on the cheek, he is looking at you with a funny look on his face.?
Before the boys could run, the local policeman had arrived and was standing behind the door with her pistol out, looking like a woman caught naked in the bath room just before she gets behind the damn shower door and starts screaming at you.
In fact, everybody was screaming, cause by this time two more sheriffs? cars had arrived along with the rescue squad, Juvenile Department officers, the fire chief and the UPS truck.
Thirty more minutes and the vendors would have set up selling VFW hot dogs, homemade shit right out of the Popular Mechanics, bread boxes and those damn wooden cats cut with a band saw.
The bank robber near the truck soon gave up - fearing, most likely, of being taken hostage by the UPS and mailed overnight somewhere other than of the rest of his posse. He looked hard at me, rubbed his cheek and said, ?man you didn?t have to do that.? Despite his eloquence, he was loaded into the squad-car and taken directly to jail.
My only surprise is they didn?t carry him tied down on the fender of the police car.
When we began to load up, for the return trip, I looked over at the green Ford and Po boy was going through it looking for what ever he could find. The money had disappeared ? along with the other two banditos into the woods, but white trash will even steal from a ?77 Ford given the chance.
?Get your sorry ass over here Po we still have some wood to cut.?
?Mr. Norm, I do believe one of them bad headaches has come on me. I need to git home to the little ones.?
Back at the Bank of Hennyville, the FBI had arrived and was quizzing everyone as to their ?egresses? and ?digresses? from the bank and just where they were when the poop plopped.
We told them that one of the robbers had been captured. They closed the bank for the day and give each of us a warning to return later in the day to be questioned. Then they scurried off to ?secure? the scene of the capture.
None of us had the courage to tell them the scene they would find.
Norm, Billy and a few from the scene, stopped at the ?Linger Longer Lounge? for a beer and to he-hash the morning excitement.
?Fellows? Did any of you see Billy charging that machine gun nest slap full of bad guys? Had his trusty Red Ryder, and even took a shot at one of the meanies, he did.?
?I can?t believe you let me grab that damn BB gun and go running for the ditch. If his gun hadn?t jammed we would all be draped over the fender of that green machine and those Negroes would have their foot on the bumper?smiling at the camera.?
Billy shook his head and headed for the restroom.
Yeah, Norm said - looking around for listeners - ?There is Po boy stealing fast as he can from the car and Billy is on his flank protecting him with a BB gun.?
?Po must have found a loose dollar cause he stayed up there. Want to bet he is dead drunk by now?? Nobody answered the challenge. Norm ordered another beer for himself and Billy then returned to the table.
?Well just maybe he had the best idea, at least he is not sitting around waiting for some tight-assed FBI twit.?
One of the men from the scene joined the crowd. ?Wondered where I would find you fellows. Did any of you see the semi-automatic? The reason he didn?t hose down Billy real well was the weapon jammed after the first shot at Roberts Car just before the crash.
?Takes a lot to jam one of those fellows. I have one at home, it?s a sweet piece of work.?
?Well, Hank, try filling the magazine with the wrong ammo. I don?t believe he actually fired at Roberts? car, I bet it was the guy with the pistol. This weapon was locked so bad I couldn?t get the bolt to move either way.? ?When I left the FBI had just arrived and was roping off the scene. Damn if they ain?t self-important little beavers??Do this?do that.?
The phone rang behind the counter. When finished the bar owner announced, ?They just caught one of the other guys over at Pop Douglas?s place, but the money is still missing?around forty thousand, Robert said.?
It seems the poor bank robber was stepping none too lightly thru Pop?s newly planted English peas and onion sets - Pop believing it to be Slow Mo, the man-child still attending the grammar school down the street from the Douglas place ? and had fired his shotgun in the air to scare the boy out of the patch. All it had done was cause the robber to faint, there-by taking out most of the peas that were still standing. Slow Mo, all Nineteen years of him, finished the job later that day cutting across Pop?s yard, as he did most days, going home from school.
A few minutes later Robert returned from the Bank and grinning broadly?stated, ?Boys you probably won?t believe this, but just before the bank was robbed they had taken the morning delivery from Wells Fargo. When the two robbers tried to leap into the cage and one fell. The other went to the rear, around the wall, and placed his satchel on the desk to fill with cash from the three cash drawers.?
The four women behind the cage suddenly seemed to loose their fear and became downright mesmerized with every move the crook made. It seems the fellow placed his container smack dab on top of some ninety thousand dollars stacked ready for the vault, only awaiting the bank managers approval and checkoff.
The money, in a stack about the size of a concrete block, was next to the gym bag brought by the bank robber. The man spent some three minutes stuffing his bag from the tellers? window boxes, and without a nod to the stack of money, left the building.
The only thing that makes sense at all is that they did as they saw in a movie and had no room for actual fact?that, they had played the scene in their minds so often that it became their reality.
We all do this from time to time?just not this obvious to others.
Footnote: Three days later the FBI called to say they had ?captured? the third bank robber and was looking for a fourth who had left his fingerprints all over the car and must be the ringleader. A wily, devious soul that had left the Army with a dishonorable discharge some years before and dropped off the face of the Earth.
It seems ?capture? is perhaps not the word for the apprehension of the third man. He had talked a black girl into giving him a ride to Charlotte NC where they managed to spend all $39,000 dollars in the three days. A suspicious room clerk had turned them in - when the money was thoroughly gone - to the local police.
Oh...and the name of the wily crook the FBI is now chasing?
One Purvis Otis Boles.
We didn?t have the heart to tell them where to look.
© 2003 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved