I was driving the old ’86 Celebrity down highway 42; I had to get away from her or I was going friggin’ crazy. As I went past the John Deere plant on the left I thought about what her last words were before I left the trailer.
“You goofy son of a bitch; you didn’t even go to college, and here I am with a master’s in psychology and been all over Europe. All you’ve ever traveled is to a Podunk Air Force base in Oklahoma and then a year and a half in Thailand where you distinguished yourself by getting the clap twice”, she had screamed at me. It was only the latest outburst in our eight month relationship; I told myself every day that I had to get rid of her but it always ended the same—-in bed. That was the problem, the fact that she was the best I’ve ever had. Actually that was only part of the problem; I am not a psychiatrist but even an underpaid journalist could see that she was schizophrenic as hell. Goddam, Ray Charles could see that shit. If any mention of seeing a doctor was thrown out she would get even crazier, so I had just given up on “curing” her.
“So take your fuckin’ brilliant ass down to your part time job at The Fudge Factory”, I had flung back at her and slammed the door on the single wide. It was nearly dark as I approached the bar; the place had quite a history and had been named some interesting things. It started out being called “Daddy Rabbit’s”, a little hole in the wall private club with a liquor license. This guy, Frank Lapin, ran it with his hard favored wife. The local goobers did not get the irony in the name and I did them a favor and never mentioned it. Guess it had sort of been a private joke among the few who had enough sense to get it. Then there had been a terrible falling out in the warren and the next thing you knew Frank Lapin was gone and the hand painted sign over the front door had been changed to “Mama Rabbit’s”. The best thing about the sign change was that they didn’t paint a new sign, just painted a line over “Daddy” and wrote “Mama” above it. That kind of worked for the place; it was more than a little rough around the edges, what with a good many bikers frequenting the place. The women were pretty ragged also, a collection of house cleaners and factory workers, more than a few being employed at the John Deere plant I had just passed. It was the kind of place where one could go into the back of the bar where it had a six foot fence around it and smoke dope and shoot the shit and nobody paid any attention to it.
After a couple of years under the new name Lisa, aka Mama Rabbit, had the extreme misfortune to acquire two DWIs in a three month period, which precluded her retaining her alcohol license. It had actually closed for several months and then had been reborn as “Big Daddy’s”. Turns out the new owner was a machinist named Jerry that I had become acquainted with down at “The Outhouse”, another dive in town. “The Outhouse” was on Old Garner Road in Raleigh; it was a ratty concrete block building with a dusty gravel driveway, the parking spaces separated by old telephone poles they had laid out. The interior was equally random, with the ceiling joists exposed and a back door that led out to a ramshackle deck where everybody smoked dope. Dennis, the owner, lived above the bar in a small apartment; he was a heavy drinker and the dope smokers on the deck were entertained nightly when a very drunk Dennis would attempt to climb the outdoor flight of stairs to his home. He always refused any help, drifting back and forth from railing to railing and finally making it to the small landing at the top. Then it would be time for the inside crowd to be entertained, because invariably he would fall a couple of times and scream curses at no one, all the noise coming directly down from the bare ceiling. I stopped in there once in a while on my motorcycle on a Saturday afternoon; typically you would find a quite hungover Dennis stationed at the bar drinking a Schlitz and watching an old movie, usually a western. I sat there on many a Saturday with Dennis looking at Hop Along Cassidy or Tex Ritter, and if there weren’t any movies on he could usually find a Rifleman or Wanted Dead or Alive episode to tide us over. Dennis was a big bellied fellow, his girth even more exaggerated by an untreated hernia in the center of his stomach that stuck out several inches. One of the bartenders joked that she expected that someday Dennis would give birth to an alien right there at the bar; he was a good guy and I liked him.
Like I said that is where I had met Jerry the machinist, one Sunday when they were having a pig picking party for somebody, complete with a pretty good country rock band. I like to smoke a cigar, one a day, and I had a particularly delicious Punch Rancho going and it was getting down very short. When I had a cigar that was especially good and it got down real short I would attach it to a small pair of tweezers that I carried with me and then secure it with a rubber band. It worked quite well, and I was puffing on this nub when Jerry walked over to me and handed me a ten dollar Romeo Y Julieta and said “here ya go, I can tell you like a cigar”, and we had been friendly ever since.
It was almost dark when I pulled into the parking lot; there was a pretty good crowd standing around near the front door. As I parked the Celebrity and walked the few yards to where they were standing I noticed that everybody’s gaze was fixated on the same place and that there was something going on. There were two men in the center and everyone else was standing back from them, at least fifteen feet. Big Daddy had the outside light on so the visibility was good. People were three deep around the two men; I immediately recognized one of the men, a troublemaker loudmouth named Tommy Lincoln who had been thrown out of every bar in the county. Tommy was holding a switchblade knife with a blade on it at least six inches long. He was waving it around in the air and shouting “come on you pussy motherfucker” at the other guy, someone I had never seen before. He was a slight fellow with dark hair and a short beard and he was just standing there while Tommy Lincoln cussed at him. I guess Lincoln felt emboldened by the other guy not doing or saying anything so he moved in closer and started swiping the switchblade horizontally, back and forth. Then the other guy quickly pulled a small pistol from the waistband of his jeans and fired a shot in front of Lincoln’s feet. For whatever reason Lincoln moved closer and the guy fired two more shots in front of his feet. When Lincoln kept coming, grinning maniacally the unknown one raised the pistol and pumped two quick shots into Tommy Lincoln’s chest. Lincoln dropped, twisting as he fell so that he landed square on his back, his grey hair falling down on his forehead and his mouth hanging open, showing his missing front tooth that he had been “meaning to get fixed” for ten years. As if that were not bizarre enough there was total silence, the same way it was when I had first walked up. Then some of the women started screaming and one was crying, maybe some girl that had been with Lincoln. The man with the pistol calmly walked into the building and up to the bar and sat down on a stool. He then laid the pistol on the counter and pulled a concealed weapon permit from his pocket and ordered a Budweiser. He told the bartender to call the police but was assured quickly that they were on the way. A kind of wild fellow I know named David Sawyer moved onto the stool beside the shooter; I was friendly with David so I walked over to where they were.
“Quite a night at the old bar, eh?” I quipped, hoping to lighten the mood.
“You got that right”, David said, grinning at me. “This here is Gary Willis, an old friend of mine from Rolesville”, he said, nodding toward the shooter. Gary nodded in my general direction. I watched him for a minute; one would expect for him to be showing some emotion or hyper-ventilating or something, but he was just sitting there calmly sipping on the Bud.
“I guess you saw the whole thing”, David Sawyer said to me. When I assured him that I had he told me what had happened to set up the interaction.
“Ol’ Stinkin’ Lincoln had already been thrown out of the Hyde Park Bar this afternoon and when he got here he was bein’ his usual mouthy self, raising hell and pounding his fist into the block wall. Me and Gary were just hangin’ out; I wuz havin’ a beer and of course Gary wuddent drinking ‘cause you can’t be drinking while you are packing with a concealed permit. So Stinky kept fuckin’ with Gary; I told him to leave him alone, that he was not one to be fucked with, but Lincoln just kept it up, hollering and pounding the wall with his big ol’ fist and then pullin’ that pig sticker out and I reckon you saw the rest”, he said. I told him that I had; then I asked David if it would be alright to talk to Gary Willis and he said sure and got up and swapped barstools so I could sit beside the shooter. First of all I told him who I was and identified myself as being a reporter for the Fuquay Journal and added that I would be glad to tell the police everything that I had seen. He thanked me for that and said I could ask him anything I wanted. I told him that the reporter in me had taken over, that was why I was approaching him like I was, and he said that there was no problem.
“How do you feel at this very moment; have you ever shot anyone before?” I said, taking a sip on the Miller Lite in a bottle that David had ordered for me and reaching into my jacket pocket and pulling out a small notebook.
“Used to be a police officer in Gastonia, outside Charlotte. Gastonia had the highest murder rate in the country in 1971, and that was while I was on the force. I had occasion to use my service revolver twice and wounded two suspects who had pointed weapons at me but I had never killed anyone until just now”, he said matter of factly.
“How do you know he’s dead?” I asked, looking hard at his face trying unsuccessfully to find a hint of emotion but to no avail; his brown eyes were just looking at me and his face was totally expressionless.
“Oh he’s dead alright”, Gary Willis said, draining the beer and ordering another one.
“Did you know Lincoln?” I asked, looking at the tabula rasa in front of me.
“Never seen him before in my life”, he said, starting on the second beer.
“Our conversation was interrupted by sirens and moments later two N.C. State Highway Patrolmen strode into Big Daddy’s with a Wake County Sheriff Deputy bringing up the rear. Apparently Gary had been pointed out by someone in the crowd because they walked over to where we were immediately. Of course the gun lying on the counter in plain view may have had something to do with it.
“Excuse us”, one of the troopers said in a very clipped decisive tone. David and I walked away a few feet and watched as the three officers and Gary walked out the door, one of the troopers in front and the other and the deputy behind him. David Sawyer and I sat down at the bar and David ordered himself another beer and I ordered a Miller Lite.
David looked at me and laughed; “still drinking that watered down stuff, huh?” he said as he took a big pull on the Bud.
“Just love it, just love it” I said and clicked my bottle against the Budweiser. David and I had always gotten along. He was an easy going fellow the majority of the time but was given to tangents of bravado, like beating up people to within an inch of their lives over some slight, perceived or real. I remembered one night in particular at The Outhouse when this guy named Tree was running his mouth and made the mistake of pushing David. Tree was about six foot six and had this huge belly and little skinny arms; however, he fancied himself a badass, his size usually enough to persuade people to not push it with him. His claim to fame, which he brought up ad nauseum, was when he was a freshman at State, before he flunked out after one semester, and he secured a job as a bouncer at The Keg, a topless bar on Hillsborough Street. When Tree pushed David that night David calmly told him to never do that again and gave him a withering look. Tree retorted with another push and the next thing you knew David had taken his elbow and had crashed it into the side of Tree’s face and the “arboreal one” was out cold, sprawled across the bowling game.
We walked to the door and went outside to where Lincoln was still lying. The girl I had seen crying was hovering over him, sometimes kneeling over him and pushing his grey hair back from his eyes, and wailing about how wonderful he was and how much she loved him and would never, ever, love anyone else. While she was going on like that the EMS pulled up and walked up to outstretched body, did a cursory check of him after examining the two wounds to the heart, and loaded him up and carried ol’ Stinky away, his woman begging to accompany the body but being turned away.
The deputy sheriff had left and Gary was sitting in the back seat of the state trooper vehicle, the two troopers in the front. After a while the trooper on the passenger side came back to the bar and started interviewing people about what had happened. The weeping Lincoln woman was the first one he talked to and we could hear her telling the cop how Lincoln had just been minding his own business and the guy had pulled a gun and shot poor Tommy in cold blood. The trooper thanked her and moved on, talking to people individually and each time I am sure hearing a different story. When he got to David and me he interviewed us at the same time.
“So what happened, fellows”, the trooper said. David told the story and the trooper took a few notes and then turned and asked me if what David described is what I had seen. I told him that it was exactly what I had seen and that seemed to satisfy him; he turned and walked outside and in a few minutes we saw the troopers pull away, leaving Gary standing in the parking lot.
David and I walked over to where Gary was; his face was still expressionless and his eyes emotionless.
“What did they say?” David asked.
“Asked me what happened and I told them”, he replied.
“Did you tell them ‘bout having been a cop?” David asked.
“Yep, and they checked that out. They also checked out my concealed permit and after a while the cop who had come over to the crowd came back and he and the other one got out of the car and talked for about five minutes and then came back and opened my door and told me that my story checked out. They also told me that I could pick up my weapon and concealed carry permit tomorrow, due to the fact that I had been drinking, but I knew that was coming”, Gary said in that matter of fact speech style he had. I told Gary that I was planning to write a story for the paper and that it would be in there probably the day after tomorrow and asked him if he had anything to say, He said no and that he thought it was about time to go home and he and David Sawyer left. Most of the remainder of the crowd had already departed; something about a bunch of cops showing up certainly puts a damper on the party so when I walked back into Daddy Rabbit’s it was a sparse group. I got another Miller Lite and thought about the night; invariably I started thinking about her and how crazy she was. I had been figuring up how much time in my waking hours that I spent thinking about her, about how I could get in her good graces, or how I was going to get her to get help for her condition, and how I didn’t want any other woman but her and how she was the best I had ever had and how she was double jointed and gorgeous and as fucking crazy as a bed bug; I figured that in one way or another she took up at least ninety percent of my time. A good friend of mine whom I confided in about her asked me just the other day if I thought that the shitty insurance that the paper had would cover psychological counseling. When I said I didn’t know and asked him why he was asking about that he had looked at me in a kind of penetrating but caring way and said “I think you need it, and if you aren’t careful there will be two nuts living in that little trailer”.
It was too early to go home so I ordered another beer and kept pondering what my friend had said. I could always count on him to tell me exactly what he thought, no matter how much it hurt me. Like the time he and I and my late wife had gone to see the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the art museum. Afterwards we had stopped in at David’s Noodle Shop because my wife, Rachel, was hungry. So we are sitting there drinking a beer while Rachel is having a bite and I said “Rachel, can I go outside and have a cigarette?” As Rachel nodded I noticed a look of incredulity go over his face.
“What did you say?” he screeched at me. I just looked at him and repeated what I had said to Rachel.
“So you are asking your wife if you can go outside and smoke”, he said, looking at me like I had three heads.
“I’m just being a nice guy”, I replied.
“Let’s ask Rachel what she thinks. Rachel, is he just being a nice guy?” he had said, and when Rachel said that that was exactly what I was doing he said “what you are doing is being a Goddam worm” and had turned on his heel and left the bar. I had thought about what he said that night a lot and I guess he maybe had kind of a point, and I guess letting my present mate slam the door in my face and tell me she doesn’t love me and that I need to go to hell was not exactly an example of my having a steel pine.
I left the bar and drove back down highway 42, past the John Deere plant and on to the little single wide trailer. I pulled up into the driveway and saw that there were no lights on and for a few seconds thought that maybe she had reconsidered and was waiting inside for me in the dark donned in a negligee sipping on champagne. I even had one leg out of the car but then thought about how it would be if she were still in one of her “moods” and pulled my leg back inside and backed out of the drive and headed into town to the Sun Journal.
“I am sure things will be okay tomorrow”, I said out loud as I went down the road, “and I really need to get that story written”, I said and headed down the road, remembering that the big sofa in the Journal lobby was comfortable enough for me.