Wednesday, August 15, 2007

CROSSED UP - short story

Texas author Sylvia Dickey Smith was kind enough to interview me on her blog http://www.sylviadickeysmith.blogspot.com/ and then compounded her crime by including a 500 word (flash fiction) story of mine "Short For Beelzebub" among all the good stuff on her web site http://www.sylviadickeysmith.com/

That story first showed up among the other Bilge here and on USADeepSouth a couple years ago in a much longer (2000 word) version titled, Crossed Up. That insult to English letters was based on a chapter from my second novel, We Danced To Ray Charles.

For those into comparing and contrasting, not to mention heavy pain, here is the 2000 word version. After reading it, check out the smaller version on Sylvia's blog and see if you don't agree that, when it comes to my writing, less is best.

==

Inspired by Mel Brooks making fun of Nazis in, The Producers, I decided to try something similar with the help of three, less than expert, inchoate Klansmen.

Bayou Bill

==

CROSSED UP
by Bill Fullerton

Delmar Bullock was not impressed. The three young ‘uns standing just inside the door to his storage shed didn’t seem good for much, most of all a Klan job.

At first, they'd tried to act cocky, like this was no big deal. But none of ‘em said a word after seeing the cross he put together that afternoon. He wondered why Jack Boudreaux, who always worried about security leaks, picked these three boys to do a job one real man could finish in a minute or two.

The young ‘uns consisted of Darrell Ray Sims, his cousin Dickie Lee James, and Dickie Lee’s shadow, Floyd Haskins. In fact, Boudreaux hadn’t spoken to anyone but Darrell Ray about the job. But he hadn’t thought to say anything about security leaks or that it was supposed to be a one-man operation.

So Darrell Ray had brought Dickie Lee and Floyd because he didn’t want to do the job alone. In fact, he didn’t want to do it, period.

It wasn’t that he was afraid, of course. And he sure as hell didn’t like niggers. At least not the uppity ones or those mixed-breed agitators Mr. Jack was always going on about. It was just that he didn’t have anything personal against Frank Williams.

A few years after his father ran off, Darrell Ray’s big brother, “Wheeler,” fell through one of those raggedy-assed scaffolds at Imperial Paper. He died the next day. Williams was the one lawyer in the parish willing to handle their case against the company. And according to his mother, when they won, Williams just took his expenses from the settlement instead of the amount they’d agreed on. The odd thing was he made her promise not to tell anyone.

That’s why Darrell Ray always felt he and his family were kinda beholding to Williams. In fact, he sort of liked the guy, even though that candy-assed Mark Cahill was his nephew.

But then Bebe turned him down to go out with Cahill. So now he kinda had to do this for, well, for her daddy, for Mr. Jack. Still, if he was going haul around some cross, he didn’t want it to be in his truck. For one thing, that new, bright yellow paint job made it easy to recognize. And it was just natural not to want any cross or post-hole digger or whatever messing up that expensive finish.

In addition to saving his paint job, Darrell Ray figured it’d be quicker and safer if he had a little assistance. Dickie Lee was about half-ass loco anyway, so it didn’t take much to get both his help and the use of his old GMC truck. The only problem was having him for a partner meant Floyd Haskins tagging along. But that couldn’t be helped.

Bullock acted kinda putout when they all showed up to get the cross and the other stuff. Now his mood seemed even worse as he re-explained how things worked. “You’ve got everything here you need. I built this here cross small enough to hide in the bed of a pick-up. There won’t be any trouble keeping it out of sight.

“Once you get to where you’re going, lay the cross flat on the ground and pour on all the diesel I’ve given you.” He held up a five-gallon can. “That way the wrapping can get good and soaked while you’re digging the hole. Now, unless the soil’s real loose or sandy, the hole don’t have to be much more’n a foot or so deep. This thing’s not supposed to be around very long.” Something resembling a grin creased Bullock’s face.

“After you stick the cross in the hole, be sure to pack enough dirt in around the base so it don’t lean. You want it to stay upright. Looks better that way and makes it last longer, too. Then douse on this gasoline. I put you some in here.” He lifted a long neck beer bottle that was almost hidden by his massive hand. “All you gotta do then is light ‘er up, and git. Be sure to take along everything you brung. Don’t leave no evidence. Most of all, don’t hang around to watch your handiwork, either. Understand?”

They all nodded. Darrell Ray thanked him for going to all the trouble. Then he helped Floyd and Dickie Lee haul everything out to the truck. Ahead of them lay their first experience with cross burning.

The plan called for picking up the material around eight and finishing the job by ten. According to Mr. Jack, Frank Williams and his wife never got back from their Saturday night running around before eleven. That meant there should be plenty of time to spare. Only no one figured on the condition of Dickie Lee’s old pick-up, or that, it being his truck, he’d insist on driving, or on his lousy sense of direction.

None of them had been out to Bullock’s place before. It was an old, frame house tucked away at the end of a long gravel road in the middle of nowhere. They arrived in the dim light of late evening. By the time they left, it was pitch dark.

Within minutes, they’d taken the first of many wrong turns. This was followed by an extended period spent driving in various directions while arguing about which way to turn next and who was at fault. They made it back to the main highway just in time for a back tire to go flat. That’s why it was way after ten before they reached their target.

Thanks to Dickie Lee’s constant reminders about them being in his truck, the others agreed he could act as lookout and getaway driver. That meant Darrell Ray was stuck with Floyd as a helper.

They stopped in the shadow of some pecan tress across the street from the Williams’ one story, brick house. Dickie Lee stayed behind the wheel with the motor idling; his primary contribution being to urge Darrell Ray and Floyd to, “Get a move on.” The moment they got the gear, he drove off to wait up the hill at the intersection where he could spot any approaching cars.

The house was located on the edge of the town’s old, upscale neighborhood. Like all the residential areas in Pinefield, it was quiet. Darrell Ray was relieved there were no lights on inside. He figured it was about time something went right on this operation. A shallow ditch, a line of low hedge, and a fair-sized front yard separated the house from the asphalt road.

They stumbled across the ditch, tripped over the hedge, and soon found what looked like a good spot. As instructed, they lay the cross flat on the ground and then poured on the diesel. Darrell Ray made no move for the post-hole digger, so Floyd started on the hole. He barely had time to break a sweat before the blade hit a large, underground pipe.

That meant more lost time while they argued in loud whispers about where to try next, then moved over to the new spot, and Floyd got back to work. It proved to be prime digging soil however, and the hole was soon finished. That’s when they realized their gloves were back in the truck. That meant wrestling a messy, diesel soaked cross with bare hands. The thought did not appeal to the fastidious Darrell Ray, not one bit.

Back when they started working on the first hole, a dog inside the house began barking. Another one in the backyard soon joined. Mr. Jack had said there would be an inside dog, and that there might be one in a backyard pen. So it wasn’t the dogs, but the thought the barking might attract attention which motivated them to make a modest increase in the pace of their work.

This lack of urgency was a mistake. The barking dog in back was Belle, short for Beelzebub. She was the bad tempered by-product of a brief but turbulent liaison between a vicious Rhodesian Ridgeback and a brutal Catahoula Cur; the latter being a local breed raised to herd and fight wild hogs. Her distinguishing features were powerful shoulders crowned by a ridge of stiff hair along her backbone, dark mottled fur, a milky-white, “glass,” eye, a paranoid disposition, and an all-consuming desire to protect her human family from strangers.

Considering her lineage, Belle was on the small side. That hadn’t kept her from becoming boss dog of the big pack of hounds out at the family’s farm. Thanks to this status, she was a frequent guest at their house in town. While the men in the front yard debated, then moved to another spot and began digging a second hole, Belle was inside her pen in the backyard, barking and snarling with nervous fury while frantically digging her own hole.

As the triumphant front yard crew slipped the diesel soaked cross into their new hole, Belle made good her escape. Stealth not being one of her strong suits, the targets of her intended assault were soon alerted by the sound of loud, angry barks coming around the side of the house and approaching them at a very high rate of speed.

The two men spotted the dark, barking projectile at the same time. It was Floyd's misforutne to be nearest the house. He emitted something resembling a garbled scream, snatched up the post-hole digger and began doing his best to hold off the snarling menace. Darrell Ray splashed on the gas, dug out his lighter, and set the cross afire. If either one realized they hadn’t braced it upright, neither seemed interested in correcting the oversight.

Seeing the cross starting to burn, Dickie Lee cranked his truck and came down to retrieve the work party. Remembering Bullock’s warning about not leaving evidence, Darrell Ray managed to pick up the empty containers without attracting the dog’s attention. Floyd’s occasional yelps made it clear he was having uneven results in his efforts to avoid Belle’s assault. As he fought a desperate, rear-guard holding action, they once again tripped over the hedge and then stumbled back through the ditch to the edge of the road.

Before Dickie Lee could come to a full stop, Darrell Ray threw the empty can and bottle into the truck bed and jumped into the cab. They waited, with some impatience, as Floyd lurched backwards into the cab while trying to deny Belle any more samples of his flesh. Once inside, he yanked in the protective digger. This move sent the handles smashing into the windshield. Ignoring Dickie Lee’s angry protests, Floyd slammed the door shut before Belle could follow him into the already crowded cab.

A glint of light made Darrell Ray turn around and look through the dirty rear window. When he shouted that headlights were approaching, Dickie Lee stopped complaining about his busted windshield and gunned the engine.

It flooded and died.

They had the good luck to be facing downhill. Dickie Lee shifted into neutral and yelled at Darrell Ray and Floyd to get out and push. At that moment, Belle was doing her best to scramble in through the still open passenger window. Darrell Ray and Floyd yelled right back that he should get the hell out and shove himself. Even Dickie Lee could follow their logic and complied. As the oncoming headlights got nearer, the truck began inching its way downhill.

That was when Belle became aware of the new and very vulnerable target of opportunity standing outside the open driver’s door. She raced around behind the tailgate and pounced on Dickie Lee’s unprotected left leg. He responded with a short but intense string of obscenities. Displaying surprising agility for someone with a fresh leg wound, he jumped back behind the wheel and yanked the door shut, just missing Belle’s open jaws and bared teeth.

Shifting into low gear, he released the clutch. The truck backfired, then the motor caught. As they raced away into the night, the cross seemed to give them a slow parting bow that ended with it toppling over onto the grass.

Left behind amidst the exhaust fumes, and shreds of denim, a small-to-medium sized, mixed-breed dog watched the retreating taillights and bayed in savage triumph.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Dana said...

What a great story! I really enjoyed that, Bill.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Sam said...

I enjoyed it, too! I didn't click over to read the shortened version, but this version didn't read as if it needs to be shortened. You should join in on Belle's bay of triumph!

2:34 PM  

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