by Buster Jent
A CHAPTER FROM THE NOVEL BAD BOY.
Short fiction from the mind of Buster Jent
Mama told me, when I was young, come sit beside me, my only son. And, listen closely to what I say. If you do this it will help you some sunny day.
Two-dozen voices lifted high the sacred hymn of their faith. The gospel of Lynyrd Skynyrd echoed through Pump House Branch, descending masses from atop Smith Mountain, slurred yet soothing like a drunken swan’s song.
Goliath Smith’s house was like unto a temple. Those gathered there was his congregation. The Holy Spirit spoke to the congregation through a burning bush… marijuana. Each cup was filled with communion… Budweiser.
Take your time. Don’t live too fast. Troubles will come and they will pass.
Although it was the first week of February, Goliath’s house was mostly empty. The multitude was scattered across the grass. A few older men stood still like stone statues around a bonfire at the yard’s far end. Their silver beer cans glistened in the glow of flames.
In the shadows younger boys were joining hands and cautiously glancing over their shoulders. I recognized the routine. They were passing a joint.
Find a woman. You’ll find love. And, don’t forget, son, there is someone up above.
Once the congregation saw my headlights some arose from the milk crate and tree stump pews. The women craned their necks. The men casually reached for their pistols.
Goliath’s youngest son Grover shuffled through the crowd giving proper motion to notify the gunmen I was friend not foe. The men and women were seated and once again gave their focus to the almighty Skynyrd. Grover greeted me at the edge of the driveway with a handshake and an ice-cold beer.
“You’re just in time,” he said, “dad’s ‘bout to raise hell.”
Be a simple kind of man. Be somethin’ you love and understand.
I popped open the beer and smiled as suds tickled my tonsils. I knew Goliath well enough to conclude if he was raising hell it was bound to make for excellent entertainment.
Grover and I took a seat on the hood of my truck welcoming its warmth. Goliath stepped from within the house. He stood above the crowd on the porch, a minister at his pulpit.
All voices abruptly hushed. All eyes were locked front and center on the man with the message. Goliath sang along with Skynyrd for a few short stanzas. His eyes were closed. The melody swept him away. The Skynyrd stopped just before Goliath melted into an ecstatic trance. He opened his eyes, startled, and gazed the lawn aimlessly confused as if he had been awakened from a pleasant dream.
With a name like Goliath one would expect the man to be nine feet tall. Actually Goliath stood about five and a half feet in height. A Dale Earnhardt Jr. Budweiser cap was his crown. A dingy, scarred, black, leather jacket served as his cloak. His Levi’s were speckled with mud and oil. A motorcycle chain wrapped around his waist made for the perfect hillbilly belt. His biker boots were rugged and worn, no doubt from the many asses he had kicked into pulp. He looked like a pauper but spoke like a king. Those seated before him stared in awe. Their faces glowed with adoring pride. Their posture was perfect. Their feet tapped the ground with hungry anticipation. For a brief moment I thought they might actually stand and applaud his presence.
“I’m so goddamn proud to see each an’ ev’ry one of ye I could piss my britches,” he shouted.
The crowd laughed.
“They’s someone here I think y’all will be real happy to meet. See that sorry lookin’ fucker sittin’ over yonder on the hood of that truck? No, I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout Grover. That other fellar. That’s Rex Gibson. Anybody tries to fuck with Rex they gonna have to go through me. He’s movin’ in with me. He’s gonna be fuckin’ my niece, Kitty.”
The men in the crowd nodded, giving me their approval. Kitty was hot property on Pump House Branch.
“You fellars know why I called ye here tonight. Now, y’all know how much I hate havin’ to beat some sorry fucker’s ass. I don’t like trouble. They’s only three things that’ll get me in an ass kickin’ mood. Number one is when a mother fucker says he don’t worship Jesus. Number two is when a mother fucker sticks his finger in my chest an’ calls me a son of a bitch. Number three is when a mother fucker does somethin’ to hurt my friends or family. Roscoe, bring Blue over here.”
On cue Roscoe cut the corner of the house with a hound dog limply drooping from his shoulders. Blue’s dry tongue hung from his open mouth. His eyes were glazed and unblinking. The dog had obviously perished. Roscoe carefully placed Blue at Goliath’s feet. He gave Blue’s head a loving pat, crossed his paws, and shed a mournful tear as if Blue was dear, old granddad.
“Bill,” Goliath barked, “bring me Andy.”
The door opened and Goliath’s oldest son, Bill, stepped onto the porch. Bill had the end of a choke chain in his hands. The leash was wrapped tightly around Andy’s throat. Andy’s cheeks were streaked with salty tear trails. His neck was raw and bleeding. He hit his knees on the porch trembling and pleading for Goliath’s tender mercy. Goliath took the choke chain from Bill and tightened it with all his strength. Andy’s body fell to the porch desperately quaking for air. His eyes filled with blood. His face was a swollen mass of petrified purple. Goliath eased the chain’s tension allowing the boy to breathe once more. He repeated this torture several times before handing the chain back to Bill and turning to address the audience with tears in his eyes.
“Blue’s my dog, man.”
His tender voice was rasped with sorrow.
“That makes him part of the family. Andy here, he thought it’d be funny to slap…”
He just could not bare the image his words were about to paint. Could his blessed following hold their composure? Somehow he mustered the strength to continue his sermon.
“Andy thought it’d be funny to slap a morphine patch on Blue’s back. Poor Blue. He was such an ol’ dog. That morphine kilt him stone dead.”
The anger was bubbling beneath his eyes, rising like mercury in his temper’s thermometer. I could see the beast within Goliath come to life. His teeth were grinding. His fists were white balls at the ends of his wrists. Goliath snatched the choke chain from Bill and commenced to striking Andy with the tip using murderous force. Andy howled.
“Shut the fuck up, Andy!”
“Please don’t kill me, Goliath!”
“I said hush ye fuckin’ mouth, Andy!”
Sweat soaked Andy’s wounds. He cringed against the salty singe.
“I think Blue deserves a lil justice,” Goliath said to the crowd, “I’m gonna tie Andy to that tree out yonder an’ beat his ass. Yer lucky ye worship Jesus, Andy. Jus’ ‘cause of that I ain’t gonna beat ye with this chain no more. I’m gonna use a belt. Roscoe, you got on a leather belt. Take it off an’ give it to me.”
Roscoe obeyed. Goliath held Roscoe’s belt in his hand. The belt wiggled as he trembled like an ancient, cracked, leather serpent.
Goliath removed the leash from Andy’s neck and used the chain to bind his wrists tightly. He led him through the crowd. By this time the boy was too exhausted to put up a fight. Women in the crowd hissed and clawed the air as villainous Andy passed. A few men gave him a threatening nod. Others bathed him with tobacco spit.
Goliath wrapped Andy’s chain around the tree trunk. Andy hung from his bound wrists like a dead man. His knees made pendulum motion three inches or so above soil. Goliath’s congregation slowly circled Andy’s bloody flesh. Their mumbled taunts melted together into one continuous note. Goliath’s swarm took the frightening appearance of flies. Bonfire flames cast long shadows across their faces mutating teeth into fangs and eyes into coal slits. Tongues instinctively lapped the air hungry to taste virgin blood. From the wilderness I heard drums beating and awaited the battle cry of a thousand savage natives. It took a moment for me to realize there were no drums. The sound was that of my adrenaline fueled heart.
“What I ought to do,” Goliath howled, pacing in rhythm with Andy’s limp pendulum, “is cut off Blue’s tail and use his ass to beat yer ass!”
“Ye want me to get ye knife, dad,” Grover hollered.
“Naw, Grover. We gonna bury Blue the way God made him, with his ass still attached. That’s more than we can say fer Andy.”
Goliath gripped the center of the belt so it curved in his hand like a pair of numchucks. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and the ass beating began. The belt cut air with a sonic boom. Goliath would first strike Andy with the soft tip then rotate his wrist so that the following strike would be delivered by the buckle. Andy’s pendulum accelerated.
The tip tore flesh.
The buckle bruised.
Andy’s knee twitched.
His toes twisted trying to find traction.
“Aw, lil’ Andy…”
“YOU SON OF A BITCH!”
Goliath backed away. Andy jerked as if he were still being beaten. Goliath staggered to the edge of the hill and howled into skylight. Andy’s blood shot eyes opened and rotated upward into moonbeams hoping for resurrection through some sort of lunar photosynthesis. Goliath’s chest heaved as he looked his defeated enemy over. Andy’s blood beaded with sweat on Goliath’s face. There was a long pause. All of us held our breath. Goliath flexed his muscles forewarning the crowd time out was over. The beating began once more.
Whap… Clink… WhapClink… WhaClipnk… WhClapink… WCHLAIPNK….
Goliath could stand no more. He dropped the smoking belt from his blistered hand and fell to one knee in tears.
“I can hear him,” Goliath moaned, “I can hear Blue cryin’.”
Goliath had evoked Blue’s dead doggy spirit, for we all could hear him. Blue’s ghostly cry filled the atmosphere. Goose bumps tiled my skin. The buzzing of flies halted without taper. Each of us stood perfectly still waiting for the sky to open so Angel Blue could descend with his wrath.
“Oh, shit,” Bill shouted from the porch scaring us all into old age, “Blue’s fuckin’ alive, man!”
Blue bobbled as he arose to his paws. Like a newborn calf each step took the uttermost concentration. Morphine clumsy Blue lost his balance at the edge of the porch and tumbled snout first onto the lawn. He felt no pain. Diligently he arose again only to meet the same fate. After a few minutes of this fiasco Goliath’s yard resembled a punchboard punctured every few feet with snout craters.
Goliath ran to Blue’s aid and wrapped his arms tightly around the pup’s neck. Had they engaged in a passionate kiss I would not have been the least bit surprised.
“Oh, my dog.”
Goliath was so happy it moved the congregation to tears.
“Grover,” Goliath said, still embracing Blue, “turn Andy lose an’ get him a beer, will ye? He’s earned a good, cold one.”
“Bill, get Blue some water an’ fix him a descent place to lay down. I’ve been where you are, Blue. Yer gonna feel like shit in the mornin’.”
Bill obeyed orders. Goliath stood and made his way through the crowd toward me with blood still dripping onto his chest.
“Rex Gibson, you son of a bitch! Welcome home.”
“Yep,” I answered with a smile, “remind me to never juice up with your dog, Goliath.”
“That’s the lesson that was learned here tonight. It’s goddamn good to see you, Rex.”
“Well, Goliath, it’s goddamn good to be seen.”
Goliath turned to the people who were still flushed with emotion.
“What the hell’s wrong with y’all? Ye look like ye at a hangin’. This is a party. Let’s get drunk an’ fuck for fuck’s sake!”
The crowd cheered and began dancing as if Goliath’s order to do so was all they had been waiting for.
“Speakin’ of fuckin’,” Goliath said as he turned once again toward me, “I think they’s someone inside the house ye wanna see.”
“What ‘bout, word,” he chuckled, “you crazy talkin’, mother fucker. Yeah, word. She’s in the house. They all in there dancin’ an’ havin’ a good time. Let’s go join ‘em.”
Goliath led the way. I followed closely behind. In the dirt, at the edge of the hill, liberated Andy sat passing a joint with a couple of his friends. There was an expression on his face that was half hurt and half relieved. Blue crouched comfortably within the circle of smokers wagging his tail and licking Andy’s wounds.