Monday, January 17, 2011

FEELING A LITTLE DIFFERENT

The first time I saw him he was walking alone, about 100 yards away, coming toward me along perimeter road which ran just outside the fenced off flight-line at Da Nang Airbase, South Vietnam. A kind of strangeness seemed to surround him and even precede him. It was almost as if he was the character “Pig Pen” in a Peanuts cartoon. The red dust stirred up from the hot August road, by the passing convoy of troop trucks and repositioning tanks, seemed to hover more over and around him than anywhere else along the road. It seemed intent on drifting toward him, not from attraction, but as a deliberate added burden. He looked a little out of place, a little dirtier, a little shorter, even a little lonelier than those giving him quiet puzzled looks from the passing traffic. Even at that distance, I knew he was different; especially different from me.


I may not have watched this stranger any longer had it not been for a deep ominous rumbling that at first seemed to be announcing his approach. I think it was the earth vibrating beneath my feet, that soon increased and slowly moved up my body, that first caused me to attribute an evil aura to Henry Maddux (Not really his name, but one given to him in a fictional manuscript I wrote about 10 years ago, however he was real! See http://www.cross-hairs.blogspot.com/). However, the rumbling was coming from “Big Bertha”, a name emblazoned on her side by her contingent of support staff that now road atop her as she rumbled along beside Tent City. “Bertha” was a tank wrecker and outweighed her benefactors by several tons.


Before I could look away, after recognizing Bertha from previous dusty encounters, one of the Army troops, atop her back, hurled an empty C-Ration can down at the lone Marine pedestrian, who was obviously lost in his own world. The can bounced off Henry’s backpack, braking his trance and shocking him back into the present realm. I started to laugh, as did Bertha’s children, but drew up short as Henry unslung his M1A as quickly as any western gunfighter. However, he also checked himself and stopped what seemed a natural reaction and re-shouldered his weapon. By then he was close enough that I could sense slight embarrassment in his expression. He let it pass and Bertha rolled on without incident, but her children sat quietly as if sensing that it had been his will and not theirs.


As he passed within a few yards I could see several days growth of beard and miles of dirt setting lightly upon his face and clothes. The dust had added to the strange aura; catching the fading light of day and framing him in a kind of eerie glow. He hadn’t just come from the Marine side of Da Nang, he had come from “the bush” and was weighted down with what he had experienced there. Yes, he was different from the others, and very different from me. I had spent 2 months restricted to the airbase, not really seeing war for what it was. I wanted to know what he had seen, and just at that moment I saw him turn toward the guard shack at the entrance to Tent City. This area was for Air Force personnel! Where was he going?


I watched as he got directions from the AP on duty, and yes, he was pointing in my direction. Why? Had he read my thoughts? Or had God?


And to my complete surprise, he was walking my way. I suddenly became aware of the card game and friends I had left moments before inside the six-man tent behind me - comfort I guess, in case I needed them. From what I wasn’t sure.


Henry stopped in front of me and asked if I knew his hometown friend, Bill (not his real name either, but I can't really remember). He had to repeat the question, because of my total involvement with his appearance and strange presence. As it turned out, Bill bunked with me and four other Airmen. I took him inside and went over to the card table and told my friend that he had a visitor. We all looked toward the tent opening at a dark silhouette standing between us and the fading red sunset. "Who is it?" asked Bill.


Henry stepped into the light of the dangling incandescent bulb and was instantly recognized by Bill. Bill started to embrace him but because of the filthy figure before him, focused all his welcome into a hardy handshake which filled the immediate area with a cloud of red road dust!


To make a long story short, we all settled back into card playing and beer drinking. Bill did most of the talking, telling about back-home stories and Henry just set near by grunting his acknowledgment of past teenage tall tales and sucked down beer after beer. He had a lot of road dust to settle and as it turned out, a lot of recent memories to soothe.


Henry was different than the others, and a lot different from me. He had seen the real side of war; the worst side. He was actually a killer; created by his government. He wasn’t like those of us who merely stood guard over the war machines, or dropped bombs and napalm from the sky on faceless victims. He hunted his prey and saw them close up, at the end of a dark tunnel with a little round window at the end, sectioned off by a hatch-marked cross - a high-power scope. Henry had been selected, due to some marksmanship skill and loner qualities, probably, to be a sniper. Luck of the draw perhaps, or maybe predestined to have a stirring witness to share with others; who’s to say.


Whatever he had been, his life was changed forever. He may have seen a different cross on Sunday mornings back home, but now when he thought of a cross it had a different meaning. Henry sat that night, after freeing his tongue with beer, and mesmerized us with visions hard for us to see. The card game soon stopped, as all attention turned to Henry. From behind a glassy far away look, he described seeing heads split open like watermelons, up close and personal; just behind the sniper’s X. The cross that ended life instead of giving it. He was sent out to do this for 2 and 3 weeks at a time. No one else around to talk it out with. Just him alone to work out the rhyme and reason for it.


While others were on R&R leave enjoying Seoul, Tokyo, or Honolulu, Henry had arrived after a 3 day walk to find his hometown friend. The probable plan was to lighten his load and reach out for reality again. I don't know if that ever happened, be some of his burden still lies with me today.


He was different from the others. He was different from me. He had been given an experience in life that few were offered and fewer chose. Was it because he was different? Maybe a loner? Was it because those that choose knew he had no home life and no particular religious convictions? Or did he choose that role for some dark reason of his own? Or, was it just God’s will?


Whatever the difference, I’m glad I had the background that would not have allowed me to accept it. I understand now that God’s will makes the only difference in the paths we chose. We’re all called to a particular mission in life, and whatever that is, that’s God’s will. For whatever reason Henry choose to accept a sniper's mission, something in his background was different enough to let him make the choice. I feel that differences in predestination may be based on our background. The background we give our children determines what they will accept in life and God’s ultimate will for them.


Henry’s path may have been determined by the lack of a family to support him and to teach him. Whatever it was, it was enough to make him different enough that an omnipotent God choose him to fit the special role of being a sniper. I couldn’t figure it out then, but I knew I was different enough to make me appreciate what I had waiting back home, and for a living God to guide my life in a different direction.


I don’t know what happened to this man I’ve named Henry, but I do know we don’t have the right to judge. We don’t know the will of God. He did what he did for his country and that’s Biblically acceptable. Because of that role, chosen for him, he may now stand tall in some church as a strong witness, with his head held high, looking up and through a different cross - a saving cross. It just may have been the whole point of it all! After all, the Apostle Paul also chose to kill for his religion, but look and listen to the witness he made after being forgiven and called by the Grace of God.


We are what we are because of a divine plan - that’s His job. Finding the reason for it is our job.

You can buy a copy of the fictionalized story about "Henry Maddox" at AMAZON, or go to Lulu.com.

You can read the first five chapters by CLICKING HERE!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

CROSS+HAIRS


No one knows what it's like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it's like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren't as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours,
only lonely
My love is vengeance
That's never free


Behind Blue Eyes
The Who



CHAPTER 1

Darkness was falling as the sheriff’s Blazer made it’s way through the wet streets of Gainsboro. There was a distant rumble of thunder - most unusual for December. The cold rain had the occupants chilled to the bone and they had only now begun to warm up and dry out.

Sheriff’s deputy Sam Milan drove as Bill Owens stared out the passenger window into the dark. The windshield wiper on his side made a thumping rub on every backstroke. Neither of the men had spoken since coming out of the woods back on top of the mountain, carrying the body that now lay under a tarp in the back of the vehicle.

Seemingly awaken by a large pothole, Sam spoke. “Say you knew Maddux pretty well, Sheriff?”

Bill sat silent for a long moment then turned his head slowly toward the front, still staring distantly. “Yeah, I knew him - grew up with him.”

“Did you ever think...well, that he was capable of anything like this?” Sam quickly looked toward Bill and then back at the road. It wasn’t that he was afraid of running off the road as much as it was to avoid eye contact and avoid offending his boss.

Bill didn’t move his head or change expressions just squinted as a line of cars passed. “Should have once...but then...well, everything was strange then.”

It would be some time later before Bill spoke again not even to the men who came out to unload the body at the emergency room. He just went into his office and sat in the dark thinking about the time in Vietnam when his friend Henry Maddux had visited him.


+


Henry walked south along the perimeter road that flanked the south end of the big air base at DaNang. To his right were thousands of square feet of concrete ramps, runways, and revetments that belonged to the United States Air Force. To his left were miles of swampy rice paddies, valley after valley of dense undergrowth, and mountain after mountain of tall canopy that belonged to the Marines by day and the Viet Cong by night.

He had been passing Vietnamese civilians for more than a mile now, but had paid them no attention. Henry was lost in his mind - thinking - letting Kim, Lim, and Luther float freely and have their way with him. Letting them live again, but then they always seem to do that on their own. He even let Sylvia have her moments of resurrection, but mostly it was Luther who dominated his thoughts.

“Whose idea was it anyway to take him away?” Henry momentarily closed his eyes, but quickly forced them open again. He didn’t want to see his friend’s leg cradled in his arms anymore.

It was hard for anyone seeing him, as he walked along, to determine whether the dust was coming off him, or from the powdery road. Henry was an evil apparition to many that passed. From habit, upon entering the forest the night before, he had blackened his face. He had spent the past night in the jungle, suspended from a limb in a net hammock he always carried. The dust of the two-day walk clung to him like the fine dust inside a vacuum cleaner bag. The dust combined with his 3-day growth of light colored beard gave the appearance of an aura around his head when back lighted by the red-orange setting sun.

Henry was unaware, nor did he care about his appearance, or the condition of his fatigues. He had grown accustom to living for days in that state, besides, the dirt protected him from the insects and cool nights.

A distant rumbling and a slight tremor beneath his canvas and leather jungle boots suddenly disrupted Henry’s haunting daydreams. He now froze, having essentially been awakened from a past world in which he often existed. The noise got louder and the ground began to shake more under his feet. Suddenly a voice rose above the clamor of armor, “You dumb motha-fucha, get the hell out’da road!”

Henry quickly looked up to see an Air Force SP pointing back behind him. In his dream-state, he had wandered into the middle of the dirt road. Just twenty yards behind him was a column of tanks, led by a gigantic chuck of ugly machinery; technically known as a tank wrecker. The approaching monstrosity appeared to have tentacles as several silhouetted Marines waved and gestured at Henry from atop the armored transport. In two leaping steps, Henry barely made a small ditch that ran along side the roadway. There he stood as the vehicle passed. He caught a glimpse of a name someone had affectionately painted on the beast’s side - BERTHA.

Suddenly Henry felt a bump on the side of his helmet - knocking it to the ground. In puzzlement he watched as a box of C-Rations rolled to a stop. It had been thrown from the tank following Bertha by a troop who yelled, "You got dirt in your ears too, you asshole?”

Without thinking and out of conditioning, Henry jerked his “special weapon” to the ready. He had perfectly framed the young man’s head in the scope of his M1A sniper rifle. He could feel the trained gentle touch and slow squeeze begin on the trigger as he heard another voice shout, “You better put that down Marine, before I have your ass!”

Henry looked up again to catch the sparkle of captain’s bars on the fatigue cap as it passed. He lowered the weapon and looked back down the road to again eyeball the man who had hit him.

“The dude’s crazy,” he heard someone say.

The column passed and Henry bent to pick up his helmet. “You could’a been crushed, ‘Jarhead’...those damn things don’t stop for nuttin’!” It was the SP again admonishing him for being in the middle of the road.

In a lightning quick move, Henry was standing in front of the surprised buck-sergeant. One of his huge hands had grasped the SP’s fatigue shirt and had lifted the man off the ground.

“What did you say...BOY, and I didn’t say Roy!” The SP looked for some compassion in Henry’s eyes, but none was there, as a matter of fact he could find little in the eyes that now glared back at him. They seemed empty of any feeling at all. It chilled him to the bone even in the early evening heat.

The dangling man strained for enough air in his lungs to whisper, “Didn’t mean nuttin’ man...a dude was killed like that just a month ago. Come on man let me down.”

The hand that could easily palm a basketball slowly lowered the man and loosened its grip. “Just don’t ever call me that again...ya hear?”

“Yeah, sure man, but mutha...”

“Not that, ‘Jarhead’! It’s Marine. Say it!”

“Marine.”

“Right.” Henry was beginning to regain his composure. He read the man’s name from the stitching above his right pocket. “Where you from Sanders?”

Sanders was trying to flatten out the collar of his once freshly rice-starched and razor creased fatigues. He then looked around to see if his dignity was intact. “Oh, Mississippi...why?”

“Just wondered,” Henry said calmly, sticking out a hand to shake, and realizing he may have just roughed up someone who could help him locate his friend Bill. “The name’s Maddux: Henry Maddux.”

Sanders reluctantly reached and shook the hand, wondering if there was more to it.

“I’m sorry about the rough stuff man, just been in the field too long I guess. Ain’t used to being around people...you know, and all that crap out there kinda’ had be shook for a minute. Don’t like loud noises...they drive me crazy, you understand?”

All the time Henry was trying to talk is way around his over-reaction; he was digging through some old letters, looking for a picture of Bill. He found what he was searching for and handed it to Sanders.

“I’m looking for my buddy from back home. Me and him’s from Tennessee. Do you know that guy?” Sanders was thinking about why he should help this dude now, but remembered Henry’s levitation act.

“Bill Owens?” Sanders said, quicker than he wanted to answer, but was surprised Bill and this guy had anything in common. “Sure, I know the dude. He’s on A-Flight. They’re working mid-nights this week, probably waking up about now,“ he said looking at his watch and then pointing off a the first row of tents in Tent City, as it was known. He counted in the direction of the dust-covered tents, moving only his lips, “You’ll find him in number three, first row. He should be in there.”

“Thanks. Can I go in there and see him...I mean do I need a pass or something?” Henry asked trying now to be civilized again.

“Just your ID will do.”

Henry showed Sander his ID and thanked him for his help. “Maybe I’ll buy you a brew later?” Sanders didn’t say anything else, just nodded and stepped back as Henry headed out toward the tent row.

Those passing him, some wrapped in towels headed for the showers, others carrying their mess kits aimed for the chow hut, took double takes at this tired looking Marine in well worn fatigues. Even in a war zone, spit and polish was the watchword of Air Force “Sky Cops”; no doubt Henry stood out. His skin color almost matched the yellowish green of his filthy clothes.

Bill Owens was one of several gathered around a makeshift table in the rear of the tent, which was still hot from the day’s heat. He was one of six playing poker as Henry made is way toward them, walking softly on the plank board floor. He drew up short, in the shadow cast by a metal wall locker that blocked the light from a bare 60-watt bulb hanging from the center pole supporting the tent. Three guys stood watching the progress of the game. “Just boys,” Henry thought.

Bill, on the other hand, looked much older than anyone he had seen since arriving, but then he always did give that impression. He had kept himself in spending money during high school buying six-packs for his classmates. He had never been “carded”, not even the first time he had tried at the age of sixteen. He looked much like Henry had remembered. His heavy beard already needed shaving, even though he had shaved before sacking out that morning.

How many times had Bill bought him beer, he thought, still a little jealous that his six extra inches of height had never been enough to overcome Bill’s muscular frame and mature looks. Henry’s baby face had always been a cruse to him. It was that face that kept him in so much trouble. So much to prove it seemed.

Vietnam had hardened that face and no the problem was that it showed little emotion. Dark circles ringed his eyes and with the stain of jungle cammo make-up they appeared to be set deep into his skull. The fact that he slept and ate little didn’t help the situation.

Even though Henry was a full twenty pounds lighter than the day he came “in country”, he still had the strength of two men. The loss of the baby fat in the humid jungle only highlighted his muscle definition.

“Know where a man could get a cold beer?” Henry had raised his voice above the chatter and hushed those around the table.

Everyone tried to identify the strange voice in the shadows. Bill, stilling trying to get a better look was the first to speak. “I’ve heard that voice somewhere...Who is it?” Bill’s head dodged and weaved as he tried to get a better look over heads between him and the voice.

Henry not only stood in the shadow of the locker, but the setting sun now had silhouette him; no one could see his face. The silhouette would have been a perfect match for a GI Joe doll. He stood in full battle gear; helmet, chinstrap swaying on one side, backpack rising above his shoulders, and rifle, perfectly balanced resting confidently across his right shoulder. Something about him made one of the players stand in awe; not quite sure why he was moved, but something just told him he was about to meet someone unusual.

“Who is it?” Bill almost demanded this time.

Henry walked forward into the light of the next incandescent bulb. “You mean you don’t know your old buddy?”

“Henry! You ol' hillbilly...come in, hell, I’ll buy you a beer!” Bill moved around the table and the two old friends joined forearms and began shaking excitedly. Bill slapped Henry on the shoulder a couple of times, but quickly stopped, choking, as a cloud of road dust began to develop around them.

“Damn son, you need a shower!”

“I need that beer first,“ Henry said, feeling more emotion inside than was obvious on the outside. Still, he did allow a smile and was truly glad to see his friend. It was good to be back close to something stable and part of good memories. He wanted to hug Bill, but just couldn’t let himself go.

Bill turned to this friends, “Fellows, I want you to meet Henry Maddux...best damn Marine Tennessee ever produced. Throw this man a beer! Ain’t too cold, mind ya. Don’t see much ice around here, but it’ll knock som’a that dirt off your throat anyhow.”

One of the young looking troops reached into a makeshift cooler made from aerial flare Styrofoam crates, and pitched a “Black Label” toward Henry. “A ‘Gyrene, huh?”

Henry’s glaring gaze caused another hush to fall over the group. Two of the others looked up at the new troop who had obviously said the wrong thing. Henry didn’t even blink as he caught the bright red-orange and black can in one hand, just inches from his face.

“I mean, uh, Marine. I didn’t...”

“Of course you didn’t, now let’s play some cards here. You wanna play Henry?” Bill quickly interjected sensing the tension in the air. He knew him...knew him well. He had been there too many times when the chilling stare had been evoked in his friend.

Henry didn’t take his eyes off this guy, who couldn’t be a day over 17 he thought. What’s he doing here anyway? “No. I’ll just watch.” It won’t be long, Henry thought. This place will change him too. He’ll no longer belong to that far away place they call home. He’ll feel comfortable in places like this. Places designed for one purpose - destruction.

“Just let me finish this hand and we’ll talk.” Bill climbed back to his box seat and turned his attentions back to the game and the pot he expected to win.

“Go ahead and play as long as you want. I just wanna sit here and rest.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Walked.”

“Walked! How far?”

“I don’t know. Much as I walk it doesn’t matter. Just glad to be on R&R,” Henry said sliding to the floor down the side of locker that had earlier hid him. He punctured two quick holes in the top of the can with the church key that always dangled from around his neck. Henry drew deeply on the can with his tired eyes closed tightly.

One of the younger guys, who had stood moments ago wide-eyed as Henry had caught the beer tossed by his friend, couldn’t hold back his disbelief, “You’re on R&R and you’re here?”

“Sure. Why not? I don’t need some tinseled whore to help me spend my money. Me and ol’ Bill there has had our share of women, anyway. Ain’t that true, Bill?”

The young dude, intent on understanding Henry and impressing him at the same time, continued, “Yeah, guess so, but you ought to see this little mama-san outta’ back gate. Man she’s fine! I think she might be one of those half-French dolls the officers are always running around with.”

Henry wasn’t impressed. He slowly took another long pull of the cool liquid. Eyes still closed; he tried to dismiss the youngster’s comments, “Yeah, well maybe you can introduce us later.”

One of the seated troops folded and was giving Henry a closer inspection. “Say man, what kind of gun’s that you got?” It was easier with those eyes closed.

“My weapon? It’s a special use weapon. Kinda’ like a high-powered hunting rifle like you’d see back home...ought 6.”

“What kind of use?” the black fellow inquired.

“Sniper. It’s a sniper’s rifle.”

Another hush fell over those present. Every eye turned toward Henry. He sucked the can dry and sat holding it with his arms draped over this knees. His head slowly tilted back and rested against the locker.

“You mean...you’re a sniper?” Bill asked. Henry just nodded. “You never mentioned -”

“You don’t talk about something like that buddy, or at least in a letter.” Henry looked at the empty can, crushed it, and asked, “Can I have another of these?”

“As many as you want. We’re off tonight, and we’re gonna par-tee - right gang!” Bill offered.

Bill raised his can high in the air and everyone shouted, “Heelllll yeah!”

This time the troop who had earlier thrown the first beer at Henry quietly walked the second to him. For some reason, yet unknown by him, respect was growing for this strange man, or was it intrigue? Anyway, he had to get the anxiety out, “Ever...ever kill anyone?” The third hush fell heavily over the tent.

Henry looked up into the questioning, yet frightened eyes, and took the beer. “I’ve seen human heads split open like a watermelon dropped from a clumsy child’s arms at a picnic.” Henry quickly fought down the resurrection of his step-father’s arm coming down on the side of his head and continued, “I’ve watched their eyes never change expression it happened so fast.”

Henry’s eyes were now glazed in appearance, as his mind played back for its captive audience. No expression, just a far away look seemed to see a screen flickering in the distance. He spoke as if telling a dream that still needed interpreting.

“I’ve watched as hunks of flesh were blown off the chests of gooks, off their arms, or their legs. Kinda’ like off Kennedy. Remember?” There was a long pause as he gulped down half the beer. “Yeah, son, I guess you could say I have - too damn many times.”

He finished the can and handed the empty to young man who hadn’t moved. “You want another, Henry?”

“Yeah...please. What’s your name?” Henry now looked at the young man from a different perspective. He was actually beginning to feel sorry for him. He just doesn’t understand. He hasn’t seen. Maybe he’ll go back and never have to see. He actually silently wished that for this young boy. It would have been best if he had never seen it, but it was too late to wish if for himself.

“Bobby. Bobby Jenkins, from Oklahoma,” he said proudly. Bobby reached out his hand to shake, but quickly pulled it back, thinking he might offend this veteran traveler.

Henry’s eyes followed Bobby’s hand and then looked up into his eyes and stuck out his hand. Bobby looked for acceptance and trust in Henry’s eyes before placing his cold frail hand inside Henry’s. The boy’s hand made an attempt at giving a good show of itself, but Henry hardly noticed. Bobby withdrew his hand and turned to fetch another beer.

“You mean that’s all you been doing since you got here man?” Bill asked, not looking up as he slapped down a full house in the middle of the pot and smiled at everyone around the table.

“Yeah...mostly since I came outta the field,“ Henry replied as Luther’s face rose and fell in his mind. “They just give us food, point us toward Charlie, and tell us not to come back until the food’s gone or they come get us. Gets lonely out there. Just talk to yourself and...”, he started to say them and held it back.

Raking in the pot as everyone grumbled under their breath, Bill continued the thought, “If you’re like me, thinking about Tennessee is all that keeps you sane.”

“Yeah...but sometimes it’s fun,” Henry continued talking to Bill as if no one else was in the room but his friend. “You find yourself just sittin’ there waiting for that next poor fool to come down that path. Which way will he fall? Will he scream? Are you good enough to make it quick? Will he be dead before he hits the ground? Hell, it’s just a game! Life’s a four-piece puzzle,“ said, visualizing his scope in his mind. “Take away any piece...it all stops.”

Henry had his eyes closed now, head back, and was deep, deep inside where his values were stored. They were all rearranged, and he knew it. He desperately wanted them back in their proper places. It had been too long.

Had Henry Maddux even noticed that he was talking so much, he would have probably attributed it to the beers he had been inhaling. In reality, he always talked a blue streak around Bill Owens. There had been only one other human Henry had talked to as much - Luther Davis. Now the memory stalked his mind looking for a tender spot, but there were few such places left in Henry’s brain.

Bill noticed the beginnings of moisture forming in the corner of Henry’s eye. Bill had long since left the game, pocketing his last winnings, and was now on the floor beside is friend, sucking on his own fresh beer. With Bill’s departure the game began to break up and soon it was just the two old friends. Both their heads were fuzzy with the alcohol and distant memories of home.

A couple of the guys stood just outside the tent flaps, whispering, occasionally laughing softly, and looking back into the light of the tent. This was one strange bird.

“You know bud,” Bill finally said, “it ain’t your fault you’re here. You’re just doing a job...like a clerk or something.”

“Yeah well, clerks don’t have to see their faces.”

“No, but they’re just as responsible for the killing as the ones doing it.”

“Maybe so, but like I said...they don’t have to see the faces.” He reached over into the near empty cooler and took another can, lingering momentarily to let the cool water refresh him. A single tear ran down through remainder of the eye black he routinely wore on his cheeks. “You still think I’m crazy don’t you?”

Bill knew immediately to what Henry referred, “No, no, just try to get your mind off it for a while. Just a little while. Think good thoughts. Think...”

“You mean like the time you came over and mom...”


+


Sheriff Owens suddenly remembered he would have to tell Henry’s mother. She lived alone now. Old man Hackshaw had been killed back in - "DAMN!” Bill thought aloud, “That was a huntin’ accident too! Well, I’ll be damned. I wonder?”

Henry had been all the old woman had left. Bill dreaded having to tell her. He hated to go out there without a reason. Oh well, he could put it off until tomorrow. No need to upset her tonight.


CHAPTER 2


Deputy Milan stepped to the door of Bill’s office and peered into the darkness, “Sheriff?”

Bill had not begun his report. He was still thinking about Henry. “What is it, Sam?”

“Got some papers here for you to sign, and we was wondering if it was okay to go ahead and lock this up?” Sam held up his left arm, silhouetting a rifle.

“Come in Sam.” Bill thought of his dad as he said the name. What had it been now...two or three years?

Sam moved toward the sheriff’s desk, bumping into a chair just before Bill turned on a lamp on the desk.

“Oh crap! My knee,” Sam said through gritted teeth as he hopped around in front of the desk.

“Too late for the light, huh?” Bill said almost laughing.

Sam dropped the papers and dumped the rifle heavily on the desk and then grabbed his knee with both hands and plopped down in the chair that had surprised him in the dark. With eyes closed and head back, he rubbed hard trying to relieve the pain.

“Sorry about that, Sam.” Bill was now into the duty log and evidence receipts.

After several minutes of reading, Bill signed the receipts and then looked over at the rifle. He slowly picked it up and turned the butt to his right shoulder. Through the scope, Bill could see the young man seated behind the front desk down at the end of the long hall. He framed the man’s unsuspecting head in the eye of the scope. He suddenly became aware of the cross-hairs. “Life’s a four piece puzzle. Take away any piece...and it stops.”

Bill jerked the rifle down. The voice stopped. He looked at Sam. Had he heard Henry’s voice? The question and surprise remained on Bill’s face.

“What’s the matter, Sheriff?” Sam asked, noticing a bit of uneasiness in Bill’s actions.

“Nothing.” Bill looked again at the Ruger .270. “Damnit!” he said in a voice loud enough the man at the front desk could hear. “What did he see through that scope anyway?” He slammed the rifle down on the desk, causing the desk sergeant to look down the hall a second time.

“Just leave it all in here, Sam, and get out!” Sam stood to walk out, favoring his right knee. Bill noticed the beginnings of hurt cross his face.

“I’m sorry, Sam...I...I just need to be alone with this for a little while. I’ve just killed my best friend...and I need to be alone. That’s all.”

“Sure, Sheriff. I understand. I just wanted to be here for you if you needed to talk, or something. I’ll be at the front desk...okay?”

“Naw, Sam. Go home. Your wife will be worried.”

“I’ll be out front.” Sam pulled the office door closed as if to settle the discussion.

Bill looked back at the rifle and then leaned over and turned out the lamp. “What did he see?”


+


The twelve year old boys always met at the same spot every morning on their way to school. A well used path came from the woods and intersected the main road into Gainsboro. Bill lived just inside the city limits, just down from the big oak tree where the path ended. Henry lived about a half-mile down the dirt road that cut off the highway, about two-hundred yards below where the tree stood. The path served the boys well as a short-cut when they visited. It also lead by the secondary paths that took them to their secret places. They loved to play in the woods and build huts in the pine thickets; their hide-outs.

Bill was leaning against the tree when Henry arrived; late as usual. Henry didn’t speak nor look in Bill’s direction. With his ball cap pulled tightly down over his face, he didn’t stop either; just kept walking and turned down the road toward school.

“Sumpin’ wrong, Henry?”

Henry stopped and whirled around facing Bill. He pulled the cap off and screamed, “Does sumpin’ look wrong?” Henry’s eye was almost swollen shut.

“God, what happened?”

“My old man hit me again, whad’a ya think happened?”

Henry placed the cap back on his head and pulled the bill down low again; almost covering his ears this time, and started back down the road. Bill stood there for a moment feeling sorry again for his friend - it wasn’t the first time - and then ran the few steps to catch up.

“What for this time?”

“IT don’t take much. Let’s drop it, okay. I’ll have enough to answer for at school to last me all day.”

Later that same day, during recess, Melvin Roberts, a bully of sorts, tripped Henry as he ran across the playground. Henry lost his cap during the fall and sat looking up at Melvin.

“What’s the matter, blondie...two left feet?” Melvin teased.

Henry slowly got to his feet and pulled his cap back into position.

“What’s wrong with your eye? Looks like somebody’s already beat me to you.”

Heretofore, Henry had not taken out his bottled anger and pain out on anyone. It had always been things. Like a stick across the side of a tree until only splinters were left, but today things were different. Henry totally caught the larger boy of guard. He flew into Melvin with arms flapping like a young bird learning to fly. The swings were not experienced, but shocking Melvin enough that he simply stood shielding his face from the flying arms. Henry wasn’t even looking. His head was down low, while his arms swung wildly, high in the air.

Melvin was more experienced than Henry. He just stepped back and sized up his next move which was his right to Henry’s nose. Henry stood momentarily shocked, with his hand over his nose. He could feel the pain already beginning to be numbed by the adrenaline that coursed through his body, and smell the blood in the back of his throat. Everyone froze in time as Henry removed his hand from his nose and looked at the bright red blood. A wild eyed looked came over Henry’s face as he instantly leaped into the air and again caught Melvin off guard.

Henry’s hands were firmly fixed about Melvin’s throat. Melvin stumbled backward, tripped, and fell hard on his back. Henry rode Melvin to the ground, like a bareback rider in a rodeo, and remained astride his chest with his legs pinning Melvin’s arms flat against the ground. Henry held Melvin’s throat so tightly that the air could not escape his lungs as he bounced on the ground. He immediately knew he was in trouble; not being able to get air out or in! Melvin could only look up motionless into the glaring eyes above gritted teeth.

Suddenly, both became aware of a large drop of blood forming at the end of Henry’s nose. Before either could react, the drop dripped away and splattered between Melvin’s horrified eyes. If that wasn’t enough indignity, Melvin focused too late on Henry’s falling fist that followed the splatter with a flat solid punch to his own nose - the blood mingled.

Henry sat astride Melvin alternating letting a drop of his blood drip on Melvin and then splattering it with a fist. Henry had never released his grip with his right hand and Melvin began to feel the lack of oxygen and lay almost motionless. Bill was the first to notice and knew he had to react. It took 4 or 5 of the boys to pull Henry off Melvin.

Melvin immediately exhaled and sucked in a chest full of air. He rolled over to one side and just lay there sucking in air for several minutes.

Bill and the other boys drug Henry to a nearby tree, near the edge of the school yard, and forced him to sit down. He offered Henry his handkerchief and sat down beside him with his hand holding down on shirt sleeve to prevent him from getting up.

Bill distracted Henry by commenting, “I’ve never seen you fight like that. Boy! I thought you were going to kill him.”

“I wanted to for a minute,” Henry said with a sob.

“You did? Why?”

“I thought it was Jim I was so mad!”

“Jim, your step-dad?”

Henry leaned his head back on the tree, put the handkerchief over his nose and closed his eyes. Bill watched as a tear ran out of the corner of Henry’s eye, down his cheek, and dripped onto the plaid shirt.


+


That was about as far back as Bill could remember being aware of the problems Henry had at home. He continued to sit in the darkness and rubbed his face with his hands. It had been a long day. It would also be a day that he would remember for the rest of his life. He didn’t know it yet, but he would remember mostly at night after he closed his eyes.

His thoughts went back to Henry in that school yard and all the times later that he wished he could have helped in some way. “Now”, he said aloud as he looked at the rifle on the edge of the desk, “Maybe I have helped in one way.”



CHAPTER 3


“You still here man?”

Sam jumped slightly and looked up at Bill. Sam had been dozing while sitting at the end of one of the sofas in the waiting room.

“Man it’s nearly eleven-thirty! Sarah will have both our hides,” Bill said as he looked at the clock hanging above the desk sergeant’s area.

Sam rubbed his eyes and rose slowly. “No man, she’ll understand. Besides, I need a ride.”

“Why didn’t you get one of the patrols to take you home?”

“Thought you might need me.”

Bill looked at the young black man, then placed his hand on one of his well-built shoulders. Bill squeezed to let Sam know how much he appreciated his concern. Actually, it was the first time Bill had touched Sam. It seemed like a good thing to do.

Sheriff Greene had died of a heart attack in May of 1980. He had been a good friend and mentor of Bill. Bill filled in as acting Sheriff until the August elections. Bill's past record, and reputation helped him win a land slide victory. Sam was one of the reasons Bill had won his second term. People were pleased with Bill's fairness and with the proficiency of his people. Sheriff Greene had died of a heart attack in May of 1980. He had been a good friend and mentor of Bill. Bill filled in as acting Sheriff until the August elections. Bill's past record, and reputation helped him win a land slide victory. Sam was one of the reasons Bill had won his second term. People were pleased with Bill's fairness and with the proficiency of his people.

“Get’n the truck, man. Let’s get outta here, and get home.”

Outside, it was still raining, and the temperature had dropped. It was one of those times when you couldn’t understand why it wasn’t snowing instead of raining. Bill let the truck engine run to defog the windows a little before leaving.

“I’m gonna have to buy a second vehicle so’s I don’t have to be a bother,” Sam said through a yawn.

“Hell, you ain’t no bother. You live right on the way, and besides, who else would I talk to?”

Bill and Sam had become good friends over the past three years. They fished together, spring through fall, and even visited each other’s homes. Bill had met Sam at his last duty station before getting out of the Air Force. Bill had also quickly grown to respect Sam as a law enforcement officer. He knew that other than himself, Sam was the most qualified man in the county to be sheriff. He also knew it was a shame that the likelihood of that happening was close to never. Things were changing, but Gains County still held a white majority - four to one.

“Why do you think Henry Maddux killed all those people?” Sam asked as the Blazer pulled away.

“Ah...I don’t know. We may never know, at least for sure, Sam. Things get in people’s mind and screw up the way the think. It could’ve been his old man, the war, or even his mother. You just never know.“

“I thought his mom was a pretty decent old lady?”

“She is. But she also never stood up for Henry when he and old man Hackshaw got into it. He was a hard working old man, but just never got ahead for one reason or the other. I guess he felt sorry for himself, about never amounting to much...probably the reason he drank so much. But poor old Ms. Hackshaw, she hung on to him - faults and all. I heard my mother say once that Ms. Hackshaw really loved Henry’s daddy, though. “Bout killed her when he got killed at the mill. Henry was three or four, I guess, and they needed someone to take care of ‘em.”

“Jim Hackshaw was just at the right place at the right time - right?”

“Right, a young widow with a child. They soon married, ‘cause I guess she was afraid of being left alone and had no way to support herself and Henry. Guess that’s why she put up with all his carryings on all those years.”

“Wasn’t too selective, huh? Just tryin’ to fill a hole.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of women that insecure. Some turn out okay, others, well, they turn to the Jim Hackshaws of the world, or worse, if that’s possible. Mama said he never touched her at first, just used Henry for some kind of personal therapy.”

“It’s a shame all children can’t be loved like I love my babies,” Sam said reflecting on his own.

“Ain’t it the truth? I hate it when we get one of those abuse cases, but you know they used to just stay outta peoples lives that were like that. It wasn’t right, but it was the times I guess.”

The Blazer turned and started down the street that ran behind the school house. Bill look through the little rivers of rain on the side window toward the school yard.

“Guns.”

“Guns? Wha’da mean?” Sam asked.

“Henry was always fascinated by guns. I remember when we were just kids, probably between twelve and thirteen; we used to get into BB-gun fights with some of the kids that lived around West End Circle.”

“BB-gun fights! You dudes played dangerously didn’t ya?”

“Yeah. I guess it was, but not to us then. Hell, we probably never got closer than twenty or thirty yards...you know, just close enough that a hit only stung a little...if at all. “‘Course, we could’ve lost an eye, true enough, but kids don’t think about stuff like that.”

“Say Henry liked that crap, huh?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I was gonna say. He was always on the attack, even when I, and whoever else was on our side, had started to retreat. He’d just be cocking that ol’ lever action Daisy he had, and moving toward the attacking team. He would also be letting out some kind’a strange yell as he shot. Can’t really remember how it went, but like Indians did in the movies - only stranger.”

“Fearless, huh?”

“Or crazy!” Bill and Sam looked at each other for a moment, realizing that what Bill had just said probably had a cord of truth. Both sat silent as Bill turned down Margrave Street.

“Why don’t you move over closer to me, Sam? This area’s gettin’ run down and I worry about you and especially your kids. I know you can afford it, with Sarah working at the plant and all.”

“Yeah, you’re right...we could. But this is where my friends are, man. Give it time man, things are changing. Good jobs at the plant opening up and people’ll start fixing things back up. You’ll see.”

“I hope so, bud. You know I don’t mean nothing by it. Just care about you and want the best for ya.”

“Things are fine. I like it here. It’s where I belong. It’s where I can do the most good.”

“I understand,” Bill said as he stopped in front of Sam’s house.

“Give me five, and see ya tomorrow,” Sam said holding out the palm of his hand and smiling at Bill. “And don’t let this crap bother ya. You did the only thing you could do.”

Sam opened the door and bent back down to see Bill, “Now get outta this neighborhood white boy! Folks might wonder why a dude like you is driving such a fancy truck!” He laughed and closed the door.

Sam stood on the porch and watched as Bill drove out of sight. He smiled to himself, thinking a good though for his friend and then went inside. “Good man,” he said softly as he entered.


+


Bill walked through the dark house making hardly any noise. He walked into the bedroom and looked toward the bed. The security light outside lit the room well enough he could see Jackie’s eyes sparkle.

“You still awake?”

“Yeah. You okay?” Jackie said lovingly, only imagining what her husband must have been through in the last several hours.

“As well as can be expected.”

“Was it who you thought?”

Bill had walked around and sat by his wife. Jackie was Bill’s third wife, and in his eyes the one he should have married the first time. It had been three years now and they hardly said a harsh word at all. Things had finally gone his way, and Jackie felt the same.

“It was Henry Maddux, babe. I...I had to kill him.” bill couldn’t control himself any longer. He cried like a baby. Unashamed in front of Jackie, who now held him close until he could talk again. Jackie always made him feel secure enough to be himself. He wasn’t afraid to cry in front of her. She understood. It was just another reason he loved her.

“I...used Sam as a decoy, and...”

“What if something had happened?”

“We flipped for it, Jackie, besides, I’m the best shot. Anyway, it was terrible out there. It was cold, and wet. You couldn’t hear a thing. We looked just about all day around where he’d parked his truck, but it wasn’t until just before dark that I saw him. I still don’t how I lucked out, but there he was up in a tree stand like I figured. He was following Sam through the scope of his rifle, and hadn’t seen me yet. At least I don’t think he had,” Bill said now reflecting on that thought.

“I shot first. He just stood there for a moment and turned toward me, and smiled.”

“Smiled?”

“That’s what it looked like to me. Then he just fell forward and hung there from his safety belt. You know it still looked like he had a smile on his face when we got’im down. Like he was glad it was over.”

“I’m sorry, Bill. I know you two were once very close.”

“Yeah. I didn’t really mean to kill him. The bullet must’a deflected off a limb or something. But...I guess it was for the best. He never could have stood being locked up.”

Bill got up and went to the bathroom. He stood under the warm shower for a long time before returning to the waiting arms of Jackie. She knew what to do to relax him. How he liked to forget the world and it’s problems. He could see her raise the cover waiting for him to slide under.

“Come here,” she said. It was more of a promise of comfort in a motherly tone than a lover’s invitation.

From the light coming in the window, he could see the dark outline of her body. He reached for the dark area between her legs; slide in beside her, and for awhile he forgot.


+


Later, as he lay in dark, he had been listening to Jackie’s breathing and the drip from the gutter outside the widow for some time. Finally, sleep overcame him and he closed his eyes and quickly dozed off, only to fine Henry’s eyes, up close and staring. He jerked and woke and then tried again. They were there again! He sat up and went back over the last hours in the woods.

He had not told Jackie what had actually happened. He didn’t want her worrying about him when he was gone. She did that a lot at first, but he had hide things from her and she had relaxed some of her concern over the years.

It was true. The conditions had been bad, and he had used Sam as a decoy. However, he hadn’t seen Henry first. Anyone knowing Henry would have known better. Henry shot first. Henry’s luck must have run out - he’d missed Sam. Bill had taken the next shot and missed too.

Henry had walked his tree stand to the ground in three large sliding motions, and was quickly lost in a laurel ticket. Neither Bill nor Sam had ever been on a hunt like this; neither had ever been as scared.



CHAPTER 4

Henry had grown almost a head taller than Bill during the summer before their freshman year. He stood well above any of the his classmates, but had retained the baby face he hated so much. It was this face that just begged the bullies of the world to pick on him. However, there were few left by now who didn’t know better.

The two boys still met in the woods and had taken up smoking in their pine needle covered hide-out. They both enjoyed those times alone, lying on their backs looking at the sky through little openings in the needles. Lately the topic had been about girls. The strange new urges of puberty had changed the way they looked at girls.

Hidden in a plastic bag under the mat of pine needles, the boys kept an Adam magazine. It wasn’t unusual for the boys to meet, start looking at the nude pictures, and then start masturbating. Often times, they would come to the hide-out alone, especially after they got older.

Henry came most often to indulge in this new found escape. It was a release from the pressure he felt at home. Every time he was angered, or hit by his step-father, he ran off to the woods. He could lose himself in the self-stimulation, and for a few minutes he could feel something besides the hollowness inside.

The boys made their spending money by mowing yards that summer. Bill used his dad’s mower, and Henry had made a deal with a local hardware store owner. He promised to pay on the mower each week until the bill was paid in full. As it turned out, the mowing season ended before Henry could square things. Mr. Hutchins, being a fair man, let Henry work at the store that fall and winter. Finally, the bill was paid, but Henry had spotted what he wanted more than anything else in the whole world - a 30.30, complete with scope.

Luckily, Mr. Hutchins had been pleased with Henry’s work in the store and agreed to keep him on. The two had actually grown fond of each other.


+


Another thing that Henry wanted was Juanita Hollingsworth. He picked her out the first day of school that freshman year. She stood out in the gym like an albino squirrel in a tree, he had thought. He also looked at her clothes and had decided he had a chance. He figured they were from equal worlds, and that she wouldn’t laugh at the right-angle tear in his flannel shirt. He was right. Juanita hardly noticed, and the two soon hit it off.

It was about this time that he and Bill had stopped meeting at the tree on the highway to walk to school together. Instead, Henry ran to school and on down the three blocks to Juanita’s house. Bill was a little jealous at first, but passed it off as a passing fancy. He’d be back soon, he thought.

As it turned out, Juanita had another admirer from the previous year -

John Turnbow. “Bo”, as he was called, wasn’t as tall as Henry, but was built like a fire-plug. The stocky fellow called Henry one day during lunch break. He wanted Henry to stop seeing her, “...or there’d be trouble!”

“What kind of trouble?” Henry asked, confidently.

“I’ll come down on that head, Baby Face!”

“You’ll have to jump pretty high to come down on my head, Shorty,” Henry said, still showing no emotion.

Bill was right there, as he usually was, ready to help if more than one jumped on Henry, but mostly to agitate the opponent. Bill loved a good fight and he knew his friend could make a good showing of himself.

“Yeah...I’ve heard of a long-bow, but I ain’t never heard of a “short-Bo!” Billed teased, feeling confident Henry would protect him.

“When I’m through with him, Owens,” Bo yelled at Bill with hate in his eyes, “you’re next!” They were more the same height, but Bo out weighed Bill by a good twenty pounds.

Bo’s attention returned to Henry who hadn’t moved. They locked eyes and began to circle each other like dogs waiting for an opportunity to get a good smell. They continued to dance round and around of what seemed like minutes to Bill, who was anxious for the fight.

“Come on! Hit’im, Henry,” Bill encouraged.

The crowd that long since gathered soon took sides and began chanting for their favorite - the majority was for Henry since he was local. Bo attended the nearby county school that was engaged Gainsville High in heated inter-county sports rivalries.

This was when Henry loved it the most; when the crowd was on his side. He sometimes toyed with his opponent if they demonstrated their lack of experience by jabbing the air as he weaved. Henry would dance the ritual dance for several more minutes, waiting for his chance, and soaking up the cheers and admiration. Then, almost without warning Henry would end the fight with one quick punch to the nose.

If the fighter was more experienced, Henry would let him punch himself on his arms. Then when the fellow could barely hold his arms up, Henry unleashed his “destroyer punch”, so named by Bill. It amounted to a straight left jab to the nose, which raised the opponent’s arms, whether it connected or not, leaving his stomach wide-open to a right. When the off-guard victim doubled over to protect himself, Henry’s knee awaited his nose. This was what Bill called the “coupe de grace”!

Today, however, Henry faced a pretty good adversary. He had obviously been in a couple of scraps. Bo was the youngest of four boys and had had to learn to protect himself or get kicked around by his older brothers.

Bo continued his counter-clockwise walk with his eyes on Henry. Someone yelled “Get’im, Henry”, causing Henry to momentarily lose concentration. Bo surprised everyone, especially Henry, with a quick punch between Henry’s defensive screens that connected to his chin.

“Damn, Henry! Get’im. Don’t take that crap!” Bill screamed, as if he had been the one receiving the punch.

Henry moved in with a little more serious look on his face. He had wanted to play with this fellow, because he knew Juanita was watching, but now things were different.

Henry connected with Bo’s nose with two straight left jabs. Blood ran down Bo’s nose and into the corner of his mouth. Henry watched as Bo tasted the bright red blood.

Bo began to circle in the opposite direction and at a faster pace. He knew he had to end it quickly or he might have a problem. Quickly and squarely, Bo caught Henry on the left cheek with two right crosses. Henry looked as if he could kill. It had been sometime since he’d been tagged, not to mention tagged that hard.

Henry moved in and jabbed Bo’s nose twice...so fast it almost looked like one punch, and he followed with a powerful upper cut. Bo fell backward, but was held up by the side of the shop building momentarily. Slowly he slide down the wall and sat hard on the ground.

For a moment it looked as if it was over, but Bo rose as if on springs. A gasp went up from the previously prodding crowd. Bo was standing, huffing, with blood dripping, holding an empty Nehi bottle. Henry saw it too, and moved back and circled to his right.

Bill, who had not noticed the bottle Bo was now holding, yelled, “Get’im Henry!”

Bo smashed the bottle against the side of the building and was left holding the neck, from which protruded one long sharp piece of glass.

“Get ‘im, man, get’im now!” Bill continued to urge.

“Will you shut the frig up! He’s got a piece of glass!” Henry pointed out angrily, and pointed at Bo’s right hand, not taking his eyes of Bo.

Bill unfocused on Henry and for the first time noticed the shinny glass and thought of the danger it posed, “Oh...yeah. Watch him!” Bill looked around sheepishly, realizing what a fool he must have sounded like.

Bo crouched low and began again to circle his prey. He lunged at Henry with the makeshift knife. Henry side stepped and caught Bo on the left temple with his fist. Bo’s legs folded up under him and he hit the ground
like a sack of rocks. Henry kicked the bottle from Bo’s limp hand and began kicking him in the ribs. As many of the crowd had witnessed before, Henry didn’t seem to know when to quite. Bill and two other boys rushed in and pulled Henry back.

“Let me go! Let me go!” Henry shouted. “I’ll kill’im! Pull that crap on me! I’ll stuff it down his throat! Let me go!

Bill looked down at Bo. “You may have big fellow...he ain’t movin’!”

Two other guys rushed to where Bo lay in the grass. One of them put his head to Bo’s chest and screamed for everyone to hush. “Naw...he ain’t dead. His heart’s a beatin’!”


+


After school, Bill waited for Henry by the oak tree. “Man...you just get crazier and crazier.”

“Wha’cha mean?” Henry asked, still breathing deeply over what he felt was unfinished business.

“Every time ya get in a fight lately, you just go crazy, man! Like today...you...why’d ya keep kickin’im?”

“Ah, leave me alone.”

“No! I want to know. Why do you go crazy sometimes?”

“I can’t help it, man! Something just pops in my head, and...and I just want to kill. To...get’im back for hurtin’ me. I don’t like gettin’ hurt. See!”

“If you don’t want to get hurt, why do you fight?”

“‘Cause I like it, that’s why...okay?”

“You don’t wan’na get hurt, but you like to fight. Well, you’re gonna get hurt if you fight, stupid!”

“I know. Maybe I just...”

“Just what?”

“Maybe I like coming out on top once in a while!”

“It’s your ol’ man ain’t it?”

“He AIN’T MY OL’ MAN! How many times I gotta tell ya?”

Bill paused to let things cool, realizing he had almost stepped over the line. He had already called Henry stupid and realized he probably the only person in the world who could and get away with it. “I know...I’m sorry man. You know what I mean.” They stood quietly for a moment, both pawing at the dirt with their feet, hands in their pockets.

“He been at it again?” Bill finally said.

Henry looked away and then spoke, “Yeah, I guess so. He’s been drinkin’ and cussin’ like some maniac. Sumppin’ about gettin’ passed over down at the mill. Hell...it ain’t my fault.” He gritted his teeth and looked down toward his house. “I could kill’im some time, Bill.”

Bill didn’t catch the note of seriousness in Henry’s tone. “You’d be better of if you did take a swing at’im once in a while. I’m afraid you’re gonna kill somebody in a fight one of these days and get in a crap-pot full of trouble.”

“Yeah, well, one of these days maybe I will.” He wished Bill would go home. He wanted to be alone at the hide-out. He needed the escape. He needed it bad.



CHAPTER 5


Henry was feeling good. He was riding a high cloud. Jim Hackshaw had been laid off at the local mill and was now out of town working. For once, he didn’t mind going home.

Henry also had discovered football. It was another way of releasing his aggression without actually getting into trouble. Mr. Hutchins had agreed to let Henry make up his football practice and Friday game time by letting him work all day on Saturdays, instead of half a day.

Henry took pride in the fact that he had paid off the mower and the rifle, and was now working just because Mr. Hutchins liked his work. He took the most pride, however, in Juanita.

He had a steady girl, who seemed to like him very much. She had him over several times for supper, and enjoyed the giggly attention her younger sisters gave him because of he was a football player. Henry was note worthy in each week’s local sports pages for his hard work at tight-end and line-backer. That was probably why Mr. Hollingsworth took an immediate liking to him as well. With five daughters, Henry was the son Hollingsworth had always wanted.

The attention took too much time away from Juanita who quickly grew jealous of the relationship between her father and boyfriend. Henry, on the other hand, ate up the attention of a good man, who took note of every good move he made on the playing field. It was strange to Henry. It felt good. Juanita wanted more and looked elsewhere for her attention.

But any girl would have had a hard time staying with Henry. He was too busy to even notice the attention a young girl demands. He worked, he practiced, he played, he went to school. So busy that the tiresome schedule often caused him to fall asleep on their double dates in Bill’s dad’s car. Unknown to Henry, as he played, Juanita was being wooed by a more attentive suitor - James Davidson.

James was an average looking boy. Nothing special about him that Juanita could think of, but he did have his own car and didn’t have to work to pay for it. She also liked his duck-tailed hair. It reminded her of “Cookie Burns” on her favorite TV show, 77 Sunset Strip.

The two teased and picked at each other in the classes they had together at school. She became infatuated with the attention through the silly little notes James passed to her.

Now, as Henry played, James was waving to her from the side lines. He was on the team and dressed out, but had yet to see any action as a sophomore. He wasn’t very athletic, but went out at the encouraging of his father, and for the thought in the back of his mind, playing might pay off with the girls. And, it looked like it was about to pay off. Juanita raised her hand and made a small acknowledging motion to let him know she had seen him. On the field, Henry had just creamed the opposing running back. Everyone stood and screamed with joy for their side. Juanita had missed the play.

Henry loved football more each day. It was an outlet that had saved many a classmate a bloody nose - that year anyway. He saved his aggressions for the gridiron, and the weight room. Coach Pendergrass soon recognized that he had a talent on his hands. Henry started his freshman year as the first string running back, and this year be played first string offense and defense. He seemed to feel no fear or pain. He met opposition head-on at flat out speed. He loved the sound of leather popping, plastic cracking, and an occasional bone!

Coach Pendergrass had a hard time making Henry lighten up during practices. Henry knew only one way to play and that was all out. He had, on occasion, caused first stringers to miss games from injuries sustained in practice.

Henry approached weight lifting with the same zeal - savagely. By his second year, his body had exploded with the muscle of any dedicated first year college player. Needless to say, he was awesome on the local high school field where mothers watched their babies play.


+


When Juanita finally said good-bye, around mid-season, Henry didn’t show much emotion; at least openly. He walked away quietly, and soon lost in

the woods. He could think more clearly in the woods. There he was the ruler of a kingdom - HIS kingdom. He made the rules there. He made the life and death decisions over his subjects. What he and his rifle said was law, and no one dared argue, or best yet, tell him what to do. He longed to be an animal himself. No emotion to deal with, just contentment. His only drives were survival, hunger, and sex. He would survive, he vowed, but today he couldn’t hold up in front of his subjects - he cried, he masturbated, and went home.


+


The way Henry played football changed. The papers no longer called his efforts “aggressive”, but “reckless abandonment”. He made it a game that broke boys down, rather than built up men. If Henry could have notched his helmet, he would have etched on the side two broken legs, one arm, three collar bones, and numerous ribs. The part that bothered Pendergrass the most was that some were his own teammates.

Henry had decided not to fight James to keep Juanita, like Bo had, but the event did not go unpunished. During the last game of that season, during the only game James got to play, Henry took an opportunity that found James between him and the opposing ball carrier. The brutal hit caught James low in the back, forcing him into the on coming runner. All three ended up out of bounds tangled among of the legs of the players along the opposing teams side line. James could not feel his legs and could not move. He lay there struggling with the deep red hot pain until his teams assistants could reach him.

It was several quiet moments before the crowd applauded their relief at seeing James slowly walk himself back across the field. Bill was one of those players that supported James as he made his way back. He knew exactly what Henry had done. He stared at Henry as he passed him standing near the spotted ball alone. Only Henry had not shown some concern over the incident. It was clear he didn’t care about the outcome. Inside the helmet was a smile. Bill shook his head in disbelief and passed on.

James’ injury was one he’d remember the rest of his life. Every time he over exerted, he would be reminded. Henry would remember too. As far as he was concerned, they were even.

Coach Pendergrass began to receive complaints even before spring practice was two weeks old, and he knew what was coming if Henry didn’t learn to control his temper and stop taking cheap shots. The coach thought he had Henry under control by the season opener. He had somehow satisfied the complaints of parents of players who had been hurt in practice with promises, and let his last season’s most outstanding player walk on the field again.

Henry’s sophomore season record had been a school high; most yards gained, most TD’s scored, most unassisted tackles, and if it had been made public, the most “unsportsmanlike” penalties. Even though the Gainsville High ended the year with a winning season, Henry’s conduct had cost Pendergrass at least two games.

Now with the season 5 games old, complaints were coming in from mothers and fathers afraid to let their babies play with Henry. The school management began to feel the heat and talks with Henry seemed to go unheeded. Even the threat of not being able to play ball, seemed to have no effect on Henry.

The sixth game was held up for forty-five minutes while the visiting team’s quarter-back was loaded off to the hospital, with a concussion received from a blind-side, after the release, blow from Henry, on an unimpeded blitz.

Boo’s erupted from both sides as the ambulance left the field. Pendergrass had no recourse but to side-line Henry for the rest of the game.

Monday, when Henry arrived for practice, the coach had to let him go. His phone had rung all weekend and he’d had enough. He knew he had failed him somehow, and that he could have been an all time great, if he could have only found a way to tame his aggressiveness. It was a sad day for both.

Henry left the locker room and was soon lost in the woods. Several people who lived nearby were puzzled by a weird kind of scream coming from the forest. Must have been some wild animal, they surmised.

Henry sat silent in the hut, his chest and throat burned from his outburst and the aching hurt from within. The scream had helped some. Now with the blooded fist he had pounded against the pine bark, he reached and found the old folded magazine.


+


Several weeks passed before Bill could get Henry to spend some time with him. Finally, Bill asked if he would be interested in going “scoutin” with him and his dad.

Henry had had the rifle for over a year now, but had yet to actually go hunting. He mostly spent time deep in the woods behind his house, “blowin’ the hell” out of old cans and milk jugs filled with colored water. He loved to watch them explode into red water vapor. He would then search out every piece of the target he could find and methodically reconstruct it the best he could, to determine the damage caused by the impact and resulting concussion.

Now was his chance to go deer hunting. What he had wanted to do since his earliest memories. Now he had someone to teach him what he needed to know. He remembered how Mr. Hollingsworth had talked about taking him, but that was over now.

Oh, he had tried it once on his own, but had to admit he didn’t even know if there were any deer around his neck of the woods. Here was an opportunity to learn what to look for and how to go about this “deer huntin’” thing.

William Owens had hunted out west last season, and his work had kept him too busy during the local open season, so this year he intended to make up the time he had missed with Bill. Henry was Bill’s idea, but he warmed to the idea when he saw how important it was to his son. He also knew Henry needed so anchored adult guidance in his life. Jim Hackshaw’s repetation was no secret in the small community.

“Scouting? For deer?” Henry asked, trying to contain his excitement.

“Naw, for Indians! Of course for deer, ignoramus,” Bill teased. “We can learn a lot from dad. He’s hunted for years,” Bill said proudly, then added, as an after thought, “...when he can.”

Henry remembered the deer heads he’d seen in Bill’s living room. The beautiful four to twelve point racks, frozen in eternal vigilance stares. To him, they would live forever, perfectly preserved. “Yeah, I know. So when are we goin’?”

“Saturday morning, can you get off?”

“Sure! Ol’ man Hutchins’ll let me go until after Thanksgiving anyway. I’ll be there.”

“I’ll let you know more later. Dad wants to check out the weather Friday night first.”

Jim Hackshaw had not worked in weeks. The recession had either slowed or closed businesses across the country down. He seemed to have taken it as punishment for something Henry had done. When Henry was overheard telling his mom he wasn’t going to work the next Saturday, Jim yelled at him, through whiskey breath, for over an hour. “You ain’t doing the man a good job! You gonna end up losing that job and your mama needs that money!”

Henry stood and listened and hated. It was a hate that had first grown out of lack of respect. The older Henry got, the more he saw through his step-father. He saw his lack of self-control over this temper and whiskey as a weakness not strength. However, seeming him this way did little to make Henry strive to control is own demons. The drinking Henry saw as a shield behind which Jim hid. He took no chances in anything and had no backbone to stand up to obvious management problems at work. Instead, he chose to come home and push his weight around. “What a coward,” Henry thought. He loathed him.


+


On Friday, Bill had come to the hide-out after school to meet Henry as planned at school. When Bill arrived, Henry wasn’t there. Bill decided to walk on down the path and meet him coming from his house. About a hundred yards from the house, Bill spotted Henry propped against a tree, with his rifle leveled at the front of his house. As he got closer, he could see Henry was looking at his step-father, through the scope of his rifle, who was seated in an old rocking chair on the porch.

“What the hell you doin’?” Bill whispered excitedly.

Henry didn’t even flinch - like he had heard him coming all the time. He just kept the site pattern right on Jim Hackshaw’s head. “Look at this.” Henry balanced the rifle that lay over a limb and moved to one side to allow his friend access to the eye piece.

“I ain’t gonna point that at him!” Bill protested.

“Do it! See what I see.” Henry insisted, shaking the butt of the rifle.

Bill relented and could easily see the side of the house and even the texture of the clap-board siding. “What?”

“Move it around and frame his head. Hurry up before he goes inside!”

“Oh, okay. This thing loaded?” again thinking of the potential danger and his father’s safety lectures.

“Always.” Henry said matter of factly. “Now put the cross-hairs right between the bastard’s eyes.” Bill obeyed, but only for a moment, and gave Henry back control of the stock.

Henry went back to his previous posture and looked back into the unemotional eye of the scope. Bill watched as Henry followed Jim as he rose and moved to the edge of the porch, coughed up something loudly from his throat and spit if strongly into the yard. Henry continued to track him as he turned and walked inside the house. Only then did he lower the rifle and look at Bill.

“That’s almost a hundred and fifty yards, man. I tell’ya, with this a man can zero in on his troubles,” Henry explained, with a seriousness that made cold chills run down Bill’s back.

“That’s crazy man! You shouldn’t be doin’ crap like that. What if it went off or sumppin’?” Bill asked.

Henry slowly looked up and grinned, “Yeah, what if? It’d be terrible, huh?”

Bill knew it wasn’t the first time his friend had thought about that possibility. “Your crazy.”

“He thinks he’s so damn tough. Through this here scope, nobody’s tough. It’s just like on TV where the “X” out brand-X...this xes’im out too. He ain’t crap - he’s brand-X.” Henry looked away from Bill and exhaled forcefully, trying to clam himself and free himself of the anger building inside.

“We leave at six in the morning.” Bill finally said, as he decided to leave. He didn’t want to hear much more of this.

Henry had gone back looking at the house through the scope. “Beautiful. Pow!”

Bill turned and went back down the path, not knowing if Henry’s comment was about the trip, or about what he was seeing through the scope. Probably both, he thought.



Cross+Hairs is available in its entirity from http://www.lulu.com/content/358880.

Friday, January 25, 2008

PAPERBACK WRITER!


The paperback version of "The Laugh & Times of Mushy,"my other book, is up and ready at Lulu.com.

As I've said, it's a compilation of blog post from Mushy's Moochings (Also known as a blook!). This blog was started in early 2006 with the express intention of leaving some documentation of "who and what" I am/was to my children and grandchildren.

I was thrilled to find out that my memoirs were of interest to many other bloggers, and especially to those I have listed in my "blogrolls," which is really a list of all the new friends I made while engaged in this project.

With that said, I want everyone to know that you should feel no obligation to buy the new "self-published" book. After all, you have been privy to the posts as they happened! Therefore, please do not get the impression I am pushing this off on you. (Shhhhh, maybe folks just now arriving will be interested!)

The "proof copy" in hard cover, arrived a few days ago and I was thrilled with everything but the back cover. I have made some revisions, added a few more chapters, and I have admit the two (including Cross+Hairs) look pretty good sitting here on my desk!

Inside the latest, you will find over 113,000 words, 311 pages, made up of over 124 chapters, most of which were posted here.

Anyway, I wanted you all to know!

Thanks for your faithful following here!

Love you all...meant it!