Sunday, January 3, 2010
Some of you all everybody might have read this story, but since we still have that full moon hovering up there in our -20 degrees sky, I thought I'd post it. Mostly because my fingers are too messed up from being outside with my dog. Enjoy
By Wayne Allen Sallee
I stared at the Army Corps of Engineers map of Western Kentucky and it felt like I could hear my own thoughts. Everyone else in town was at Sunday mass. I assumed that the service would be longer today because of the topic that had neighbors talking to each other over their respective cars up on blocks, the fact that I was back behind the sheriff’s desk for the first time since the accident.
Since I earned my nickname. Wayne “Gun And A Half” Henley. Still sounds like a carny name, every time I think it. Or am I talking out loud? That’d be good ammunition for Bobbi to go wagging her finger at me; we’re already not talking much on account of me not attending church anymore. I told her I would attend Sunday worship after leaving the hospital, then I put if off towards embarrassment at my disfigurement. In truth, I was angry at God for the position He put me in. And the condition He left me with. But it was something that happened later that made me fell this way.
So here I am, the man who saved me from certain death gone until tomorrow. Trey Pembleton, the man who replaced me at my behest, was in Pontiac, Illinois, for a seminar on new techniques at identifying criminals. Profiling, they call it. I guess that’s the New West for you. Like having pop country music. I realized I was obsolete long before my scarring. Few weeks back, Trey was talking on how the ACE map could be replaced by some kind of map that showed photos from some satellite up in space, updated itself somehow every three months. Said it might be good for seeing any areas where meth labs might be springing up. Hell, I’m so old-fashioned, I wouldn’t care to have one of those things if it meant catching marijuana growers. You get in your car and drive, that’s how you know the dirt roads and the fire roads from the county roads, a worn path that didn’t lead to a cemetery from Civil War times. You don’t get mud on your tires from waiting for the stars and the moon to show you something new.
My disfigurement is good for one thing; I can point at the map. There it is, Talbot, a town of a couple dozen unemployed folk seven miles down Flat Rock Road. Where it happened. An Amber Alert–one of the few new things don’t stick in my throat like a chicken bone–was out on a little girl named Bailey Darcett, everyone kinda knew it was the ex-husband and known child abuser who had taken her. Went to the trailer park but Big Bubba Darcett was waiting for us to show. The fat bastard opened the door just long enough to grab my gun hand, then slam the door with all his weight behind it on my wrist, three times. Damn near severed it. Worth it, though; Bailey ran out the side door and her old man became a lot more docile when the door eventually swung back open and he stood their panting with my deputy’s gun aimed at his crotch. Trey had told him, go ahead and try and run, though I’d rather shoot you in your balls then in your vertebrae, but I heard all this later.
Just like I heard about little Baily again while I was in rehab. The circulatory system was all messed up, left three of my fingers curled, my thumb and forefinger movable, but the scene taken as a whole is what gave me the nickname Gun And A Half. Rehab consisted of putty that I would squeeze best I could, which was barely at all, those first weeks. As I got better, my forefinger got to moving like I might one day be able to pull a trigger again. Two months into my hospital stay, Big Bubba got ten to twenty in Madisonville Correctional.
Trey showed up the day I was getting released, I was sitting the waiting room chair, Bobbi pulling out our old Delta 88 from the lot. There I was with my red clay packed into a denture cup. I have all my teeth, but the cup was in the drawer when they put me there, and I’d be dipped if I’d let them charge me for something that I’d be leaving behind. He surprised me with a solid silver lighter, I figured on how he remembered I’d light up a pipe while sitting on my porch after dinner. But he told me to put it in my right hand, use it as a grip instead of the clay, which I thought to be a good thing , because gobs of the clay kept me looking like I always had chili stains in my lap.
Things were as good as they could be. Then I picked up a copy of the Ledger and read how Bailey Darcett was hit and killed by a drunk driver while waiting for the morning school bus.
And at that exact moment I stopped believing in God.
My trigger finger still pointing at Talbot, I started tracing further west and south. Dawson Springs, Hopkinsville, Bristol. Mitchum. And following that same line, our fair town of Leland. Our cowardly, superstitious town, bottle cap maker of the Midwest, boy howdy.
The towns I mentioned were all areas where crimes of murder and desecration had occurred over the previous two month's full moon period. Didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it was one of those gothic cults, young kids bored to be hillbillies in towns where every job was a mimum wage job. Tombstones overturned in the Bristol Cemetery. Disemboweled rotweilers out behind Max Cady's shack in Mitchum. My daddy, rest his soul, used to call the kids with the black fingernail polish and lipstick as acting like "Dracul's and Am'tyville Horrors", and he'd go back to whittling wooden chess pieces on his porch.
There were several reports of missing persons in Hopkinsville; a dead body, most likely a drifter from his clothes, most likely mauled by those rotweilers Cady always had running around. Nothing to make CNN or even a blip on Headline News. But the townspeople see me as a cripple, I know they do, and they are making plans on a mass exodus like the cowards they are.
I'm mostly curious as to if my wife Bobbi will stay behind, seeing as we don't see eye to eye since I stopped going to church. She'll tell me that if Reverend Bayliss passes down judgment, I'm the last person to argue the point. I turned back to my, that is, Trey's desk, absently looking at Henry Hull's drugstore across the street, waiting for the church bells to ring.
It's close to eleven now, the full moon just above the pine trees in the north sky. Talbot was south, was there a pattern here? I was the only one in town, everyone had left at high noon when the church bells rang. I suspicion that they all figured I couldn't stop even a simple thing like the cult swiping things like common shoplifters. Every cross and flag was gone, even the yellow ribbons once hung proud for our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan were gone. I suppose if anyone had been able to lift the concrete blonde out front holding the scales of justice, they'd be gone, as well.
My thoughts were of the conversation I had with my wife, hours ago, when mass had ended. I watched from the window, as most of the town walked home, a few families driving off in pickups or sedans for Sunday Go To Mettin' dinner. It was hard getting to call Sunday lunch a dinner, but this town was so dang antiquated, might as well have been John Dillinger, Jesse James, or even the flippin' ghost of James Dean the town's expection to show tonight. When I mentioned those walking home avoiding looking at the sheriff's office, she looked at me like, well, what did I expect.
"Bobbi....", I started.
"Don't, Wayne." Just two words. Then she blinked once, maybe to stop a tear, and turned away. I watcher her walk to the corner of Landon and turn down Agar Avenue.
I thought of another time she had a tear in her eye; after the first time I had to kill a man. He wasn't as bad as a child molester. My creed on those guys is simple: you ever, ever, think of touching a kid, do the rest of the population a favor and put a gun to your head. Case closed.
No, this guy wasn't like Darcett. But he had killed a man at the other end of town, outside of a honky-tonk called Meldrick's, couple of trailers strung together, was all. I was there in minutes, having been walking back from dinner, I heard the shot right when I turned off Landon, just a little turn in the road, but it had its own name. The shot rang out and I was there in a minute, gun hand drawn. My good gun hand, back then. Didn't even have a chance to see the dead man, a non-local, as it turned out. I was too busy pulling my gun from its holster, shooting a skinhead in a fade gimme cap because he had the draw on me. I wasn't trying to kill him, just wing him. But things fell out the way they did.
When I left after taking statements and was on my way back to the station, my wife was on the steps. As soon as I looked her, that one tear came down. She was always a strong woman. In particular, three years later, when the other thing happened.
I sat in my chair, a cone of light on the desk, lefty Frizell was singing "Saginaw, Michigan" on Westwood One, and I chuckled on how the 'timers could write lyrics and rhyme Michigan with fisherman. Maybe that's how rap started, though I highly doubt that. I squeezed my putty, strengthening my hand should I need to take a swing, but soon I was just making hand shadows of Jimmy Durante.
It was then that I heard the howl.
I knew that Busha and Grover had an old bloodhound, but as I recalled, he was about as mute as a dog could be, kind of just opening his mouth and flopping his jowls in a silent yawn. Actually, what was strange was that none of the animals were making sounds of any kind, the occassional moo had stopped and I didn't even hear the Szostak's weiner dog yapping.
I opened the door with a certain defiance. I tried to feel like Johnny Cash in his Folsom Blues days, then I looked at both my hands and tried hard not to think of Barney Fife. I sure hope Pembleton wasn't having to profile me as one of his tests, or whatever they were doing up there in Illinois.
The pines and maples rustled and there was a shadowed figure at the end of Main Street, standing near as tall as the concrete blond that reminded me that justice was blind. I thought of young Bailey. It seemed as if the lone figure had leapt through the trees. Was he scouting, before the others showed, or were they more silent, maybe circling around LaFanu Avenue behind me. My thoughts were scattered.
I did my best, then. Let it be known.
"Wayne Henley, Sheriff of Leland. Identify yourself."
The shadow grunted. Or...growled.
I went down the the steps, the .45 in my left hand; I held my arm close to my chest so I might aim better, should I need to.
The sillhouette became clear, a hulking form with blood red eyes, as he stepped into the stoplight in front of the Sherwin-Williams, and I swore in the Christ I no longer believed in I was looking at a werewolf. But, no. I was fatigued, was all.
Suddenly, I was looking at the face of the kid I killed, his face still slick with the Pabst that splahed on him as he fell dead to the tavern floor.
I didn't feel feverish, I thought, shaking it off. Then I saw what I thought was a rotweiler snarling, one taller than me, then a face ravaged to the bone. We were staring each other down, not moving an inch. I thought of the John Doe hitchhiker. And then I saw Big Bubba Darcett and we both lunged together, my fatigue becoming pure-blooded anger.
I thought of how easy it would be to think a group of rowdies would do the damage done. Why the town would leave. And why I would stay. Because of beasts like these. Then I remembered I had to shoot this damned thing. I emptied the barrel in his head and neck, blood spurted, and yet he still leapt at me. My gun skittered away, I thought the sound was like that of the townspeople earlier, some leaving with lames excuses, others just wandering away furtively. Yet still scurrying away.
This thing from wherever the heck ever he came from was on me, hot breath, blood and spit on my face.
I could think of only one thing, trying to stay balanced there, my kness on the ground as if the thing was waiting for me to beg for mercy. I reached into my pocket for my silver lighter, having to use my bad hand, the position I was in. I flicked the lighter best I could and when it lit up, I shoved it into his chest hair and pushed until I thought my shoulder would pop out.
The thing howled, the hair ignited, and I pushed harder, with clenched teeth, I told the devil where to go.
Then I felt the burnt fur, the skin and muscle beneath shifting, sucking my hand and lighter inside snuffing out the flame. The lighter was stuck in the thing's chest hair, my hand stuck as in cement.
But this had to be some bear, some animal with mercury poisoning. I made the mistake of looking at its face, and I felt a bloodied claw around my neck.
Shit, was all I could think.
"Wayne, honey. Don't move." It was my wife Bobbi's voice, quiet and calm. Composed as a gunfighter's.
The shot rang out, hit the silver lighter dead on, pushing into the sucking hole thtat had me tight. I will never until the day I die forget that creature's howl. For some reason, I thought of a man lost in the desert, or abandoned at sea.
The moon shone directly overhead as I watched the thing stumble once, twice, start curling up. I bit my lip until it bled as I pulled my hand free. The monster withered, curled, burst into flames and was dust in what seemed like seconds, the remains of my lighter melted into the gravel. It seemed like seconds, but I looked at the watch on my left hand as saw that it was after midnight. We'd been out here two hours. Then I saw my hand, my crippled hand. The fingers were straight, the flesh new, pink and without lines like after one's hand had been in a cast.
I moved my fingers with ease, in complete wonder.
Bobbi told me she stayed behind, watching over Grandma Szostak and Uncle Henry. She started back this way when that danged weiner dog went and hid. I disliked the dog because its name was dee-o-gee, which spelled dog. But, blast it, for years I was the only one thinking the dog had a polish name, deozgi, all silent letters and all.
But my blessed wife stayed behind and helped save my life, because I knew Heaven had my soul. God was with me that night.
I'll never understand why some people die young and others live to be frail and alone, why people act as enablers or disablers, or how it was I fought something out of Hell itself that night. But I love my wife dearly, I asked Reverend Bayliss if I might do readings before his sermons, and I light votive candles for Bailey Darcett with the new lighter Pembleton gave me; I light those candles every day and the light shines all the way up to Heaven.
I don't think about how the townspeople acted that summer night, I don't care how they silently question my hand being whole again.
Believing in my wife and my God is enough for me.
Wayne Allen Sallee
21-May-05 1:27:34 AM