"All right now son, just line the rear sight up with the front one until they are together and the tops are flush" the sheriff said in my ear. "Now just take a deep breath and squeeze the trigger when you exhale."
He always called me son; when he watched me mow his lawn, or work in his garden or when we finally got around to the one thing I waited all week for: shooting his bb guns. I was not his son. I was his neighbor ever since he moved into his mother's house after she died. It made me miss my father bad when he called me son. I did not like that, but at least he did not call me Bobby Boy. That was what my dad called me.
I exhaled and when I breathed in I pulled the trigger.
The Daisy Ninety-nine Champion was the most powerful of the four rifles my neighbor had. Its accuracy was good, but that was traded off for comfort and easy reloading. The last coke bottle I had put on the fence separating our yards tilted to the side and spun around finally falling like a drunk clown. Like my neighbor the sherf. That is what we called him, Momma and I. His real name was Kendrik Lawson. He was the sheriff in our town for going on twelve years here in the middle of Missouri. He would always say: "I been sheriff here for longer than you were a dirty little thought in your daddy's mind."
I hated when he talked about my daddy, too. I hated him and his sweaty fat body, his sour liquor breath, his stabby whiskers and what he made me do with him just so I could shoot his daisys. He would keep them all in a cherry cabinet in the parlor of the old house he inherited. He had real guns, since he was the sheriff, but they were all kept in the basement. Momma didn't know what sherf made me do aside from the stuff she could see, but I wanted to shoot the guns too much to tell her.
After all the work and other things were finished he would set the cabinet key on the table, pour us lemonades and we would sit in front of the rifles behind the glass door and he would tell me about how when he was a boy he had a neighbor much like himself who would teach him about "the things a man needed to know" because his own daddy, like mine, had passed away. He would say things about the other neighbor boys that he had taught to shoot over the years as well. I listened to about half of what he said. I just wanted to shoot.
I was a good shot. I did not need some dirty old man to tell me that. I had once shot a rabbit in one eye and out the other. It dropped to the ground like a sock full of fishing weights. Sherf said he was impressed but I waited till we finished shooting, cleaning and storing the guns to run home and cry. That poor bunny did not deserve to die for sport. I cried all night till I fell asleep. I did not want him or anyone to see that. I swore I would never aim those daisys at another living thing again.
As well as the real reward of shooting all the guns I thought I would never be able to own, sherf would pay me a little for the chores and other stuff. It was never enough, but the guns made up for a lot of it. One day it struck me that if I kept some back from what the man gave me, I may finally be able to tell sherf to take a hike if I bought my own gun. Momma said that would be ok so I started saving up.
Sherf said if I ever told anyone what he did to me alone, they would send me away and I would never see any of my family and friends again. I already would never see my daddy again. I did not think I could stand that. The things I had to do with sherf I will not mention here. If I were to do so, you would be sad for me. You would not be able to forget and I wouldn't want that. It is bad enough that I did them and cannot forget. But do not feel bad for me because I know one day I can get away from sherf and have my own gun.
Yesterday cousin Georgie and I went to the sporting goods store. I gave him my money and he bought me an air rifle. He is eighteen so he could sign for it. Momma doesn't know and neither does sherf. I took it to the ball field behind the school and practiced. It was much more powerful than sherf's it had a velocity of six-hundred and twenty-four feet-per-second. It was a Crosman. I bought it because of those things and because it could shoot bbs soft lead pellets too. The pellets were more expensive, but I did not intend on wasting ammunition.
I had gone through a lot and waited long enough. I had my own gun now.
I went to sherf's house. He was mad at me for being late. I had my rifle behind my back as he opened the screen door then turned and went into his bedroom. The screen door slammed behind me as I heard him yell "since you were late today, you're gonna have to mow the lawn tomorrow as well as the gutters. Now get in here. You kept me waiting too long already."
I had already loaded the pellet and pumped my rifle before I set foot on the property. Ten pumps meant I had one shot. I walked in and took aim.
Sherf had a look of surprise as he yelled "where'd you get that gun, son?" I took careful aim as he said "that ain't one of mine."
"Yeah, I know. It's mine" I said as I inhaled and pulled the trigger.
I have told you that I was a good shot, today was no different. As far as what I swore to after the rabbit, well this was not a daisy, it was a Crosman.
Sherf ended up moving after he got out of the hospital. The talk of the town is after some kind of blood poisoning, he had to have some kind of amputation, whatever that means.
Here's an additional longer story Patrick sent after the deadline. I thought it would be a great addition to this post:
With Interest by Patrick Nelson
"Look, sheriff! I told you that the robber was a midget with a mask on!" Dudley, the bank manager said in his clipped Texas plains accent.
He had the cliche clerk's visor covering his pomade drenched comb-over. His white shirt was buttoned up to the collar with no tie and the sweat stains testified to the blistering heat that had permeated the sun baked llano. There was nothing and no one out and about in this midday sun except the sheriff and the bank manager who commiserated in front of an old beat up breezy boy fan that slowly moved back and forth over both men. It just pushed the hot air here and there offering no real relief like a demon in hell moving a pile of hot coals from here to there.
The sheriff, for his part, appeared to not be bothered by the heat. His uniform, though worn and faded, was always crisp and clean. He did not have a single sweat spot on his clothes and nary a bead of perspiration wet his brow. He even went so far as to shut off the oscillating button on the fan so it just blew on poor Dudley. Everyone sought midday refuge except Dudley, the bank manager who was also the only employee of Sugarbush Savings and Loan and then the unflappable Sheriff Worthington. The sheriff, whom most hereabouts called Worth, was a man with a heart of gold, but a sharp mind and an acid tongue. He was elected unanimously year after year to fill his inauspicious post of sheriff in this nowhere town. Every four years someone would always run against him just for show even though they could be sure they would never be elected. Heck, they didn't even vote for themselves. "Zero votes for the opponent" was what the weekly paper always printed after the election.
Despite the mexicans being a second class throughout this part of Texas, the whole town of three thousand and fifty five citizens did believe that the southern neighbors had a stroke of genius when they came up with the siesta. The residents of Sugarbush, Texas would hate it to be known in any of the other towns, but during this type of heat-storm the whole town closed up and slept until the unendurable became slightly tolerable. Even the nights around these parts where filled with tossing and turning on sweat-drenched bedding Siesta was when the daring thief chose to mount his incredible heist.
"What makes you so sure it was a midget there, Dudley? You ever even seen one before in person?" The Sheriff asked.
"Why, not in person Worth, but I seen 'em on the screen big as day at the movie house. I reckon I can tell one when I see one. Are you tryin' to tell me I aint seen what I seen?" He asked irritably. "Now Dudley, don't go getting you nickers twisted! I just have to ask you some questions so's I can find out who took the money" he replied soothingly. "Now, a midget, huh?"
"Yessir! He had short kept blond hair with these scary, piercin' blue eyes and a hankerchief acrost his mouth and nose just like the olden days."
"Well, was there anything else that set him apart from all the normal midgets we got runnin' around Sugarbush? Cause I reckon I'm gonna have my hands full if I gotta go on an all-out midget round up" the sheriff delivered with that crooked grin he was known for. "You reckon it'd be ok if I deputize you if I need your help?"
"Well, I'm trying to help you now, but if you think your just above helpin' us taxpayin' citizens..." it was Dudley's turn for sarcasm.
"Come on now, Dudley. I was just joshin' you. As far as tax payin' goes though, Luanne tells me you're still owing on your city taxes to her three years runnin' now" he paused to let that sink in. "You really wanna be bringin' that horse to the show? Besides, if I was gettin' paid so well by you 'taxpayers', pray tell why I still have to work a full day at my chickens before I come here to round up your vertically challenged criminals?" He infused the diatribe with false anger just for kicks. This was probably the most fun he was gonna have all day.
Dudley held his hands up to Placate the sheriff for he knew it wasn't in the best interest of his health to provoke the man before him. He had witnessed the sheriff single-handedly restrain and apprehend five young men who had come to their town from one nearby just to "raise a little hell". That time Worth had only used a copper kettle and a bowling pin, but Dudley was sure the Sheriff could be much more handy with the spinning blades of the breezy boy.
"Alright! Alright! Whatcha need to now?" He finally gave in.
"Tell me what else you can remember about this robbery."
"Well first off he crept in all unnoticed seeing how he was shorter than the counter" he started. Worth raised an arched eyebrow over his own piercing blue eyes but let the man tell his story. " First thing I noticed was this banging on the counter of a rifle barrel from below. It was an eerie just this disembodied hand holdin' that weapon of destruction aimed right at me. Well when I collected my senses, I heard a voice telling me to put the money in the bag" he paused to wipe his shiny brow with a yellowed handkerchief. "Well now I tell you that sure was the strangest voice I ever done heard. It was like he was trying to make it lower, y'know?" He looked to Worth for some kind of help. Worth just rolled his eyes and asked:"dis-guised?"
"Yeah! Yeah! That's it! Like he didn't want me to pick his voice out of a line up or somethin'" he grinned at his own intelligence for putting that one together. "So anyways, I figured he couldn't see me and so I made noises like I was doin' what he asked, but I was reasoning that he couldn't see, see? So I made my way around the counter and tried to make a dash for the door" Dudley rose from his chair and re-enacted his escape attempt in a theatrical fashion that would have made any vaudevillian proud: with tense and furtive movements and grand hand movements. Knowing he had his audience interested, whether from amusement or intrigue he did not care, he continued. "This sharpsman is better than I gave him credit for, however. He sensed my movements and PTOW! He shot the key in the door forcing it to lock. PTOW! He shot the big hand on the clock forward ten minutes so it read 12 noon on the dot. Why, I stopped dead in my tracks lest this here villain decided to shoot my liver right out from under me. That's when he said 'Dudley, yer closed fer lunch' in that strange voice he was usin" he finished with hands in a surrender pantomime an a look of horror on his face. "I was then forced to surrender the contents of the drawer into a pillow case" he added with defeat as he bowed his head.
Worth let the emotion settle a moment and rose to inspect the lock and key. The key was dented just a bit on one side, but other than that there appeared to be no damage. Then he strolled over to the clock on the right wall. The same scene: just a small round dent in the tin hand of the clock and no other visible damage. Due to the indentation, the hands were rubbing together which left the clock still reading 12 even though the mechanism ticked on.
Worth turned toward Dudley who was still waiting for the round of applause that would never come.
"So Dudley, you tried to squirt on out the front door leaving the bandit with the entire contents of the bank drawers?" the sheriff asked.
"Come on now Worth! Was I supposed to risk my life and limb for the paltry sum of forty dollars in small bills?" He blustered.
"Forty dollars? Is that all this bank holds?" Worth asked incredulously.
"Not the bank, the drawers! All the money is kept safe in the vault and during bank hours" his tone conveyed the hurt the Sheriff had inflicted on his capability. "The most I have ever needed on hand was enough to give change to the feed store. They got them A-T-Ms for anything else anybody's gonna need."
Worth asked: "so you're sure it a PTOW and not a KABOOM?"
Dudley's forehead wrinkled up as he said "why, yes, sheriff!" as if he were talking to a small child.
"Ok then. And was there anything else about the robber or the pillowcase you can remember? Something you didn't think about during those life threatening and dire moments?"
"Well, now that you mention it, he had some strange shoes on for a grown man, well full grown midget: converse Chuck Taylors. Like we used to wear when we were kids. Oh, and the pillow case had a monogram on it."
"It seems you might have wanted to tell me that before, Dudley! A monogram?"
"Yeah. G G or D G something like that."
"And you no doubt noticed that he called you by your name which suggests that he may know you."
"Well I... Yeah, I did say that, didn't I? Maybe he say the nameplate I have in my teller's window."
Worth looked over to the counter and noticed the plaque which bore Dudley's name was so far back on the counter it was almost falling behind it on the teller's side.
Worth felt like he had enough information. He sure had enough of Dudley for the week.
"Allright Dudley, I'm gonna go shake some trees and see what falls out" he laughed at his own joke because in this town, there weren't too many trees for shade or otherwise and there certainly were no sugarbushes that the town was named for.
"You reckon you know who did it?" Dudley asked.
"Well, I got a hunch, but I want to sneak up on him. I know them midgets hear real good seeing as how there ears are so close to the ground." He gave Dudley a mischievous wink and left him standing in the closed bank with his mouth open.
Worth drove his old red ford truck to the edge of town where the Gunne house stood. When you looked at it, it seemed as if it was about to fall over but he knew the guts of these houses were built strong so as to withstand the harsh winds that would blow through these plains. Nailed here and there to the outside were pieces of raw plywood and particle board. Dust and hard packed earth were in place of the usual grassy lawn. By the small concrete porch lay a red wagon on its side.
Worth walked up onto the porch and knocked on the rickety screen door which had a few patches sewn into it. The door inside was open but he could not see inside for the sun out was too bright. A moment or two later, a small blonde boy in a white short sleeve shirt with suspenders answered. He was holding a broom and dustpan.
"Howdy Billy Bob. How are you today?" asked the sheriff.
"Fine, sir and you?"
"Fair to middlin'" was his answer.
"My ma ain't home right now, sir" Billy Bob said in a timid manner. "She's workin' overtime in the plant in Drafton. She won't be back till after midnight. It's just me and Gran Genny."
"I ain't here to see either of the ladies of the house, son" he paused. "You think you could invite an old man in out of the sun?"
A flicker of shame flashed across BB's face: "I'm sorry sheriff, I should have invited you in. Bad manners, sir." He opened the door and stepped aside to let the man in and set down the broom and dustpan.
"Oh, that's all right, boy. Ireckon you must be a little shaken up with me just poppin' up like this Worth said.
It was like an oven inside the house. Worth took off his stetson and let his eyes adjust and looked around the sparsely furnished but well-kept living room. Along one wall were some family photos, all of which only contained the three of them: BB, his mother June and his grandmother Genny. One or two had a very old man which Worth assumed was BB's Grandfather Vic. Worth had never had the pleasure of meeting this man. Next to these were a couple rows of plaques and ribbons from various sharpshooting competitions. All had the name William Robert Gunne on them. The child was already a legend in this land forged by the gun. Worth hoped he wasn't too late to help the direction the boy was headed.
"Bobby? Who's voice is that I hear out there?" came the beckoning from a room to the back of the house. "Bring them on back here, boy!"
"Yessum" the boy said meekly.
"This way, sheriff" He turned and led the man to a door at the end of a short hallway with worn, green carpet. He opened the door slowly and Worth caught sight of a frail woman adjustin a wig onto her head.
"Is that you Othello? Come on in son! Come on in and let me get a good look at you." She said with much effort. He knew the years in this oven of a town was taking its toll on her. He noticed the deep thrumming of an air conditioner in the corner and then how cool it was. Not cold, but just cool enough to make an old, frail woman comfortable.
"Howdy, Miss Genevieve. How are doing thes days?" He bowed his head slightly as if nodding to a queen.
"I am surviving well, thank you Othello. I am feeling much better now that my grandson has been taking very good care of me. I can remember the days when I was feeding and clothing him. Now that old age has gotten a firm and unflinching grip on me, our rolls are reversed. Why he takes such good care of me that he even found and installed this wonderful air conditioning unit" she was beaming as she mentioned this. Her pride was almost tangible. "And what can I do for you this grand afternoon?" She said in slightly improved spirits: company can do that to a person left alone especially one with but a small child for companionship.
"Well, I am actually here to speak with this young fellow here" he said pointing a finger at BB. "Some man to man things I would like to discuss. I would like his opinion on a matter. May I take a quick look at your window unit, ma'am? It sure seems a thing of beauty."
"Surely, Othello. I am so proud of it I feel like royalty when I sit here feeling its benefits" again with such pride.
Othello walked around the bed and noticed a price tag on a piece of string swirling in the cold air forced from the vents. He held it still and read it:
Turtle Neck Flea Market.
That was clear across town he thought to himself. It continued:
Priced like old works like new.
Worth stepped away and turned back to the matriarch in her bed. "Ma'am. That sure is one good deal he got on that."
"It sure is. I am truly relieved that he has inherited my good sense of monetary acummen."
With that, worth ducked back out into the living room and waited for the boy to follow.
"Well, son" he said as he looked reproachfully at the young man. "What do you have to say for yourself? What do you think you where doing at that bank today? Do you have any idea how much trouble you're in?" He threw all three questions at him rapid fire. He expected the boy to break down or give him some kind of remorseful "woe is me" tale.
Instead the boy looked him directly in the eye and said "I did it for my Granny. She aint gonna last long in this heat. I don't believe she's gonna last that long, period." His stare did not waver. "I did what I did to make her last days as comfter- comfortbul..."
The sheriff interrupted: "comfortable?" "Yessir. That's it sir. I gave the man at the flea market three fifty dollar savings bonds and that left me fifty dollars short, so..." He let it hang.
Worth picked up the thread and said "well that little escapade of yours only netted you another forty. Where'd you come up with the rest?"
The boy looked down at the ground and said "I sold Clara."
"You sold your bb gun? The one you used to win all these awards?" Worth said as he pointed to the wall of fame.
"Yessir. He gave me fifteen dollars for it" BB said and reached in his pocket and handed the sheriff a wad of crumpled singles. He was speechless. He counted the money and put it in his own pocket.
"So. What am I supposed to do with you? You haven't even said you're sorry" Worth pointed out.
"I'm sorry I had to do it that way, but I ain't sorry I did it. She's real com-for-ta-ble now."
"Well, to be honest, Dudley did say the person wore a mask... Maybe there's some little person out there who shoots a bb gun better than you and, awww! Who are we kiddin' here son? There ain't nobody within a thousand miles can shoot like you, but you have to be punished for what you did, boy"
"I will tell my granny that you gotta take me in" the boy said respectfully and made to go back to her room.
“Now hold on a minute there” Worth said as he put an arm on the young boy’s shoulder to stop him. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I think we’ll work out a work release from your home here. You already got your hands full with your Grandma and I think she’s gonna need your help for a while yet.” He strolled slowly to the door and continued “you are going to come to the station house after school for two hours a day and work off the money you stole from the bank. I will pay you fifty cents a day. You will clean the cells, the steps and anything I tell you to do, Got it? I am going to return the money myself and you will pay me back. You and I will not discuss this with anyone. Ever. You will also watch the line closely. If you ever cross it, I will know and so will the rest of the town. You got it?”
A small smile threatened to break out on the boy. Worth realized he had seen the boy quite often and this is the first time he saw him almost smile. BB almost let himself be a little boy in that second.
As the sheriff stood in the doorway taking in the outside, he spotted the wagon and had one more question: “how’d you get that AC here from the flea market, boy? You use that there wagon?”
“And you pulled it all the way across town back here?”
Worth shook his head in astonishment. This boy was just full of surprises. “And how did you manage to get it in the window?”
“Block and tackle, sir” he said with his head high and chin stuck out just a little “went to the library and looked it up a couple days ago.”
“You did all that? You scouted out the air conditioning unit, made the bargain, robbed the bank, went and made the exchange, transported the unit back here and got it in and running in...” Worth looked at his watch. It was just past three p.m. “a little over three hours?”
“Yessir, but the bank job took longer than I guessed, so it put me behind by about twenty minutes.”
He knew then that he must help give this boy a guiding hand or his ingenuity and his imaginative spark could all be wasted. Besides, he and the young man’s mother went back a ways and he owed her more than one good turn. Worth put on his hat as he pushed out the door giving the boy a side ways grin and said: “OK chief, you be at the station mañana and we’ll go over the groundrules and get you started paying me back, agreed?”
“Yessir. I’ll be there. I promise. And... thank you for not tellin’ Granny. It could’ve done her in.” was all the boy said.
“Here you go, Dudley.” Worth said as he laid down the forty dollars in front of the perpetually moist teller.
Dudley’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. “Where did you get this? Did you catch that little feller?”
“Oh yeah, on the way out of town. I told him how much you would appreciate the money back as it was making you look pretty foolish.”
“Very funny, Worth” Dudley said with a sneer. “What’d you do with the little bastard?”
“Oh. Don’t you worry about none of that. I got him paying his debt to society” Worth said as he turned and walked out the bank door into the slowly cooling evening light.______________________________________________
There were two authors entries this week. Dee Turbon and Patrick Nelson and both of them were very good.
Both Patrick and Dee's stories had a strong sense of place and strong dialog that expanded on the image of the main character. I liked how Dee's stories both worked with the image and also expanded beyond it to even current events. (There was an incident in which hundreds of black birds died inexplicably here in the US a while back and Dee makes reference to that.)
Nelson's story won mainly because it had the strongest punch and a real sense of humor about something which is very dark subject. I like the whole "come up-pence" aspect of it.
Read all the stories here:
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