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Bill Fullerton

Crossed Up
by Bill Fullerton

Delmar Bullock was not impressed. To him, the three "young'uns" standing just inside the door to the big storage shed behind his house didn't seem good for much, most of all a Klan job.

At first, they'd tried to act cocky and talk like this was no big deal. But none of them had said a word since seeing the cross he'd put together that afternoon. He wondered why in hell Jack Boudreaux, who always worried about security leaks, got three boys to do a job one real man could have finished 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. Actually, Darrell Ray was the only one Boudreaux asked to do this job. But he hadn't said anything about security leaks or that it was supposed to be a one-man operation. So Darrell Ray showed up with Dickie Lee and Floyd because he didn't want to do the job alone.

In fact, he didn't want to do it at all.

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 the mixed-breed agitators Mr. Jack was always going on about. It was just that he didn't have anything personal against lawyer Frank Williams.

A few years after his father ran off, Darrell Ray's big brother, "Wheeler," had fallen through one of those raggedy-assed scaffolds at Imperial Paper and been killed. Williams was the only lawyer in the parish willing to handle their lawsuit against the company. And according to his mother, when they finally won, Williams hadn't taken near the amount of the settlement they'd agreed on. The really weird thing was he'd made her promise to keep what he did a secret.

So he always felt he and his family were beholding to Williams. In fact, he kinda liked the guy, even though he was defending that nigger and had a real candy-ass nephew in Mark Cahill.

But after Bebe Boudreaux turned him down that afternoon because she was going out with Cahill, well, he just had to do this job for Mr. Jack. Still, if he was going to be hauling around some cross, he didn't want it to be in his truck. The thing was the new, bright yellow paint job made it easy to recognize. And it was only natural not to want any cross or post-hole digger or whatever messing up that expensive coat of paint.

In addition to saving his paint job, Darrell Ray figured it'd be quicker, and safer, if he had a little assistance. It hadn't taken much to convince Dickie Lee, who was about half-ass loco anyway, to provide both help and his old GMC truck. Of course, having Dickie Lee for a partner meant having Floyd Haskins along for the show. But Darrell Ray knew that couldn't be helped.

When they all showed up in Dickie Lee's pick-up to get the cross and the other stuff they'd need, Bullock had seemed kinda put out. Now he sounded impatient like as he re-explained how things worked. "You've got everything here you need. I put the cross together this afternoon and it's small enough to hide in the bed of a pick-up so you won't have any trouble keeping it out of sight.

"When you get there, lay it on the ground and pour on all the diesel I've given you. That way the wrapping can get good and soaked while you're digging the hole. Now 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 briefly creased Bullock's face.

"When 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 here gasoline," he lifted a long neck beer bottle that was almost hidden by his massive hand, "and light 'er up. Then git. Be sure to take along everything you brought. Don't leave no evidence, but don't hang around to watch your handiwork neither. Understand?"

They all nodded and Darrell Ray thanked him for going to all that trouble. Then he helped Floyd and Dickie Lee haul everything out to the truck. A few minutes later, the three "young 'uns" drove away, heading for their first experience with cross burning.

The plan had been to pick up the material around nine and to finish the job by ten. Frank Williams and his wife never got back from their Saturday night running around before eleven Mr. Jack had said. There should be plenty of time to spare. The problem was the plan hadn't planned on Dickie Lee's lousy sense of direction, the condition of his old GMC, or his insisting on driving.

This was the first time any of them had ever been out to Bullock's old, frame house which was tucked away at the end of a long gravel road in the middle of nowhere. They'd arrived in the dim light of late evening. By the time they left, it was pitch dark. After taking many wrong turns and losing a lot of time wandering in the wilderness, they finally made it back to the main highway, just in time for one of the truck's back tires to go flat. That's why it was nearly 11 before they made it to the Williams' house.

They had all agreed, because Dickie Lee had once again insisted, that since it was his truck, he would get to act as the lookout and get-away-driver. That meant Darrell Ray was stuck with Floyd as a helper.

Parking in the shadow of a big oak tree across the street from the Williams' one story, brick house, Dickie Lee stayed behind the wheel with the motor idling fitfully while urging Darrell Ray and Floyd to, "Get a move on." The moment they'd collected all the gear and stepped away from the truck, he drove off to wait up the hill at the intersection where he could be "looking out" for approaching cars.

The house was located in a relatively new and upscale neighborhood which, like all the others in Pinefield, was quiet. Darrell Ray was relieved to notice there were no lights on inside. He figured it was about time something finally went right. A shallow ditch, a line of low hedge, and a carefully landscaped front yard separated the house from the asphalt road.

They stumbled across the ditch, carefully stepped over the hedge and then quickly found what looked like a good spot. Laying the cross flat on the ground, they poured on the diesel. A few minutes after starting the hole, they had to stop when the digger hit a large pipe buried just below the topsoil. That meant more lost time since they first had to argue about where to try next, and then move the operation to the chosen spot. 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 which meant they'd have to handle the diesel soaked cross with bare hands.

While they'd been working on the first hole, a dog inside the house had started to bark and was soon joined by one in the backyard. Mr. Jack had warned about an inside dog and that another one might be in a backyard pen. So it wasn't the dogs but the fear their barking might attract attention which motivated the diggers to make a modest increase in the pace of their work.

Their lack of urgency was a mistake. The barking dog in back was Belle, short for Beelzebub, the bad tempered by-product of a brief but turbulent liaison between a vicious Rhodesian Ridgeback and a brutal member of a local breed, the Catahoula Cur, which was raised to herd and fight wild hogs. Her distinguishing features were powerful shoulders crowned by a slight ridge of stiff hair, 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 relatively small. That hadn't kept her from becoming the 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 barely increased the pace of their work, Belle, inside her pen in the back yard, quit barking and began frantically digging an escape hole.

Just as they triumphantly slipped the diesel soaked cross into the newly dug hole, Belle completed her breakout and came tearing around the corner of the house. Stealth was not however, one of her strong suits. The sound of loud, angry barks approaching at a high rate of speed alerted the targets of her assault.

When they finally spotted the dark, barking, projectile heading their way, Floyd yelled something, snatched up the post-hole digger, and began doing his best to hold off the growling menace. Meanwhile, Darrell Ray quickly splashed on the gas, dug out his lighter, and set the cross afire. Only later did it occur to them that they hadn't braced it up straight.

Seeing the cross start to burn, Dickie Lee cranked his truck and came down to pick them up. 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 screams made it clear he was having only limited success avoiding Belle's teeth and claws. As he fought a desperate, rear-guard holding action, they tripped through the hedge then stumbled back over the ditch to the edge of the road.

Before Dickie Lee could come to a full stop, Darrell Ray had thrown the empty can and bottle into the truck bed and jumped into the cab. They waited impatiently as Floyd awkwardly backed into the cab while trying to deny Belle any more samples of his legs. Once inside, he quickly yanked in the protective digger, a move that sent the handles crashing through the windshield. Ignoring Dickie Lee's angry shouts, he slammed the door shut before Belle could follow him into the crowded cab.

Looking back, Darrell Ray yelled that headlights were approaching. Hearing the news, Dickie Lee quit complaining about his busted windshield and gunned the engine, which immediately flooded and died. Fortunately, they were facing downhill. Dickie Lee shifted into neutral and shouted at Darrell Ray and Floyd to get out and push.

Since Belle was, at that moment, doing her best to scramble in through the still open passenger window, they yelled back for him to get the hell out and shove himself. Even Dickie Lee could follow their logic and complied with remarkably little fuss. As the oncoming headlights got nearer, the truck slowly began coasting downhill.

That's roughly the moment Belle became aware of the new and very vulnerable target of opportunity standing outside the open driver's door. As the truck picked up speed, 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. Jumping back behind the wheel he yanked the door shut, just missing Belle's bared teeth.

Safe from the jaws of Belle, he shifted into low gear and released the clutch. The truck backfired, then the motor caught and they raced away.

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

[This story is an excerpt from Fullerton's novel, We Danced To Ray Charles.]


Bill Fullerton writes:

"At one time or another I've been a country grocery store clerk, oil field roustabout, infantry soldier, graduate student, paper pusher for the government, out of work, and a newspaper columnist. I'm still grinding out sports and general interest pieces, both print and Net, while trying to add published novelist to my resume.

"I have a B.S. from LSU and a Master's degree from Louisiana Tech, and have had academic work published. In addition to USADS, my fiction has appeared in Rose and Thorn, DeadMule.com, Chick Flicks, Nibbler, New Works Review, and this summer in LongStoryShort. After picking up a Combat Infantry Badge and Purple Heart in Viet Nam, I lived in New York City from 1970-1972, the setting for my first novel, A Brief Affair.

"Although born and raised in Louisiana, I'm currently out-stationed with my family in Dallas where I've just finished my second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age, mainstream story, set in a small Southern town in 1968."

[Note from Ye Editor: And for another great story, be SURE to CLICK HERE to read the story about Bill Fullerton written in 1969 by William F. Buckley, Jr., in the National Review.]

Write Bill at bemildered@yahoo.com.


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