|Mark R. MacHogan|
Issue #34 (June 1984)
At one point, the old codger looked like he was going to die at the wheel. He slumped down in his seat, and the Buick slowed to thirty.
[quoteright]"Jeez, Dagger, the old coot's gonna kick off right here."
Father liked to drive. The big sixty-eight Buick was a gas hog, but at 45 top, why worry about gas mileage? And 45 was only a freeway speed, the minimum to keep Sheriff Zwenski happy on the Interstate. But mostly he'd rather keep Mother happy by not going faster than 25 over the old highway near the river.
Mother was twirling the dial on the radio, looking for something nice, not all this talk, talk, talk. After a minute she found some music, but it was country western. The first time Mother heard country western music, she'd thought it was a satire. But then they played some more satires just like it, and she wondered if it didn't wear just a bit thin, I mean, after all. When the third hort-broken pore old cowboy came on, it dawned on her that this was not satire at all. That's the way they always played it, even if it did sound like a pair of tomcats. So the country western station didn't last long either.
About the time she found a bit of Glenn Miller, a flash in the rear-view caught Father's eye. He speeded up just a bit, out of habit, in case that happened to be the good sheriff ready to give another lecture on the virtues of driving the speed limit, but the red color meant it wasn't Zwenski. The red truck came up fast.
Sid liked to drive. He also hated the name Sid. Although the name "Dagger" wasn't quite accurate since he'd never actually killed anyone, he always made Jack call him that when they were alone. Like today.
Sid and Jack had graduated from prank to misdemeanor fairly quickly, as upturned garbage cans and trampled azaleas gave way to broken glass under parked cars and pellet-pocked highway signs. Tortured pets, rerouted detours, and broken windows were a constant source of annoyance to Sheriff Zwenski, but there were a lot of kids in the county, and Sid and Jack were clever enough not to play their games too near home. Now, siphoned gas and stolen cars taken for a joyride were beginning to become an annoyance to the good people of the towns, and the office of Sheriff was starting to become less secure as the next election drew nearer.
But Zwenski was no fool, and his list of suspects had narrowed considerably. This Sunday he was staking out a deliberately inviting parked car in Pine Bluff, but though the crime was correct, the actual location was ten miles farther north. As the newly stolen red pickup rounded a corner, the afternoon sun flashed onto the windshield. The red pickup came up fast, and Father edged way over to the side to give room to pass. Curiously, the pickup just stayed on his bumper, honking. Even speeding up didn't help, since the pickup matched speeds, and now Mother could hear derisive shouts over the 40 mile-an-hour breeze.
"Father! Slow down!"
"I tried that. They honk if I go slow, and they honk if I go fast."
"Well, I don't know." Irritation crept into his voice.
"Well, pull off or something." She looked over her shoulder. "They're just kids."
He slowed and a rock hit the trunk lid. "They're not just kids."
A string of vicious obscenities caught her attention and went a good way toward pushing her to the same conclusion. Her face coloring, and her mouth in a neat little "o," she could only stammer a breathless "After all!"
"Jeez, Dagger, the old coot's gonna kick off right here!"
"Shit. No, wait. He's okay."
"Yeah. He's up again. Let's have some fun with'm." Stoning cats to death had become old hat. "He don't know us. Let's slap'm around a little." Jack's pixie-like smile, which his mother and aunts had so adored, had matured into the beginnings of a permanent sneer.
"Yeah. Yeah, let's do that." He passed the Buick and then cut sharply back into the right lane and braked.
As the red door with the smiling punk loomed up, Father braked and steered off onto the shoulder and came to a stop, hoping they'd had their fun and would go away.
"No, gosh-damn it." He knew Mother didn't like bad language, but sometimes you had to say something strong. As he shifted into park his fingers trembled slightly.
Mother's mind was not on the language, but on the two punks as they sauntered to the sides of the car, and she could see the sneer up close now. Proximity did not improve the flash of teeth. Teeth lifted one foot to the bumper. On Father's side, Sid was smug as he noticed Father's eyes, the same look the dog had as she died. "This is gonna be fun," he thought.
"You out for a drive, Pops?" That was what Sid was about to say as he reached for the old man's lapels. Actually, he never got to either the lapels or the word "drive." Once the door came open, Sid saw the three fifty seven in Father's hand and froze. The handgun caliber did not actually register in his mind, even though he had two at home next to the shotguns. All that he saw was the immensity of the bore, which looked at least two inches across. The act of freezing gained him three more seconds of life, although it seems certain they were not particularly enjoyable.
Father spent the first second readjusting his point of aim from Sid's right shoulder to his left shirt pocket, and spent the next two enjoying the expression of surprise.
"This" Adjust aim. Steady the barrel with the other hand.
"young" Smile at the stupid look on the stupid face.
"punk." He yanked on the trigger, but since the revolver was already cocked, the hollow-point slug was not pushed off target more than a half inch. At that range, yanks don't matter.
Father couldn't remember ever hearing the blast, and didn't bother to watch the body hit the pavement, since he was already handing the pistol to Mother. She carefully cocked it as he shifted into drive and rolled forward a few feet. Jack's foot slipped off the bumper as he stepped back astonished. His second step backwards was from fear as he saw the cannon-mouth of death swing his way. He took a third step in panic, raising his hands to ward off the blow. Halfway through the fourth step, a half-turn to flee, Mother fired. The bullet caught his right hand on its way to his chest, making a much messier entrance hole than Sid's. Mother would later blame her aim on Father's roiling the car forward, but Father knew she always pulled to the left.
He stopped the Buick's forward motion before they ran into the side of the pickup, and backed slowly away while replacing the smoking revolver in the holster in his lap. As they pulled back onto the pavement, a quick look showed no traffic to witness the last moments of the two punks. Father decided to turn over to the Interstate for the rest of the drive.
"Oh, they made me so mad."
"That's all right, Mother, you did fine."
"Ohhhh, I never killed anyone before. Nothing bigger than a pig."
'You did fine."
"Well, after all!"
Fifteen minutes later the flashing lights of Zwenski's car flashed by going the other way, and only then did Father realize that the big gun was still in his lap. He slowed again to thirty as he carefully replaced the dangerous thing under his seat. Thirty was too slow for the good sheriff. But then he was going the other way.