The Belle of Catawba StreetbyRumple Foreskin©
Warning: This story has NO, I say again, NO, sex. It does have KKK wannabe's, the "N" word, a cross burning, and a vicious dog attack. Oh yeah, it's supposed to be funny.
Lamar Barnhill was not impressed. The three young pukes standing just inside the open door to his work shed didn't look 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 should be inside. If he didn't help Brenda put up that damn Christmas tree tonight, there'd be a boatload of shit heading his way. But after that he could get ready to go deer hunting in the morning. Instead, he was out here in the cold, tying to teach these turds a thing or two.
Why in hell did Elam Tidwell, who usually worried like an old woman about security leaks, pick these three farts to do this job? Hell, one real man could finish it in a minute or two. But he was the boss, for the time being.
The three "farts" consisted of Billy Ray Sims, his cousin Howard Lee James, and Howard Lee's shadow, Lester Haskins. In fact, Tidwell hadn't spoken to anyone but Billy 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 Billy Ray brought Howard Lee and Lester with him 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. Elam was always going on about. It was just that Billy Ray didn't have anything personal against Shelby Williams, who once helped his family out when no other lawyer in town would.
But Mr. Elam said Williams' was doing way too good a job defending some sorry assed nigger. So Billy Ray supposed this needed doing, especially since it would impress Mr. Elam, and his daughter.
Still, if he was going to be hauling around some cross, he didn't want it to be in his truck. The 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, Billy Ray figured it'd be quicker and safer if he had a little assistance. Howard 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. Of course, having him for a partner meant having Lester Haskins along for the ride. But that couldn't be helped.
Barnhill had acted kinda putout when they 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 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."
He paused and glared down at them, as if expecting some argument. It might have been the Christmas season, but this silent night didn't feel one bit holy to Billy Ray. So he shuffled his old cowboy boots on the dirty wooden floor and waited for Barnhill.
"Now, 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. That way the wrapping can get good and soaked while you're digging the hole. 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 Barnhill'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 longneck beer bottle that was almost hidden by his massive hand. "After that, all you gotta do is light 'er up. Then git. Be sure to take along everything you brought. Don't leave no evidence. Most of all, don't hang around to watch your handiwork either. Understand?"
They all nodded. Billy Ray thanked him for going to all the trouble. Then he helped Lester and Howard Lee haul everything out to the truck. Ahead of them lay their first experience with cross burning.
The plan called for them to pick up the material around nine and to finish the job by eleven. According to Mr. Elam, Shelby Williams and his wife would be at some country club Christmas party that wasn't supposed to break up till midnight. That meant there should be plenty of time, with some to spare.
The plan quickly ran into trouble. The problem was no one figured on the condition of Howard 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 ever been out to Barnhill's place before. His old, frame house was tucked away at the end of a long gravel road in the middle of nowhere. It'd been way after dark when they arrived. By the time they left, the moon had set and it was even darker.
Within minutes, they took 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 Howard Lee's constant reminders about their being in his truck, the others agreed he could act as lookout and getaway driver. That meant Billy Ray was stuck with Lester as a helper.
They parked under some pecan trees across the road from the Williams' ranch-style house. Howard Lee stayed behind the wheel with the motor idling, limiting his contribution to repeatedly urging Billy Ray and Lester to, "Get a move on." The moment they collected 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 Catawba Street in one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. Like all the other residential enclaves, it was quiet. There were Christmas lights on just about every house, but Billy Ray was relieved no lights were on inside the Williams' place. He figured it was about time something went right. 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 five gallons of diesel from Barnhill's can. Lester had barely gotten started when the post-hole digger hit a large pipe buried just below the topsoil. They'd have to dig somewhere else.
That meant more lost time since they had to argue in loud whispers about where to try next before moving operations 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. They'd be wrestling a messy, diesel soaked cross with bare hands. The thought did not appeal to the fastidious Billy Ray one little bit.
When they had started working on the first hole, a dog inside the house began to bark. Another in the backyard soon joined. Mr. Jack had said there would be an inside dog, and that another one might be inside the fenced backyard. So it wasn't the dogs, but the thought their barking might attract attention which motivated the novice cross burners to make a modest increase in the pace of their work.
This lack of urgency would prove a grievous error. 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, and the fact she scared off the local Jehovah Witnesses from both the Williams' home all the others on Catawba Street, she was a frequent guest at the house. While the men in the front yard debated, then moved to another spot and began digging a second hole, Belle was in the back yard, moving dirt at a frantic pace as she dug her own hole.
The moment the triumphant front yard crew slipped the diesel soaked cross into their new hole, Belle escaped. Stealth, however, was not one of her strong suits. The targets of her intended assault were soon alerted by the sound of loud, angry barks approaching around the side of the house at a very high rate of speed.
The two men spotted the dark, barking projectile heading their way at the same time. Lester, who had the misfortune to be closest to the house, yelled something, snatched up the post-hole digger and began doing his best to hold off the snarling menace. Billy Ray splashed on the gas, dug out his lighter, and set the cross afire. If either one realized they hadn't braced it upright, they didn't seem interested in correcting the oversight.
Seeing the cross starting to burn, Howard Lee cranked his truck and came down to pick them up. Remembering Barnhill's warning about not leaving evidence, Billy Ray managed to grab the empty containers without attracting the dog's attention. Lester'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 Howard Lee could come to a full stop, Billy Ray threw the empty can and bottle into the truck bed and jumped into the cab. They waited, with some impatience, as Lester lurched backward 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 Howard Lee's angry protests, Lester slammed the door shut before Belle could follow him into the crowded cab.
A glint of light made Billy Ray turn around and look through the cracked, rear window. When he shouted that headlights were approaching, Howard Lee stopped complaining about his busted windshield and gunned the engine.
It flooded and died.
They had the good luck to be facing downhill. Howard Lee shifted into neutral and yelled at Billy Ray and Lester to get out and push. At that moment, Belle was doing her best to scramble in through the still open passenger window. This prompted Billy Ray and Lester to yell right back, suggesting he get the hell out and shove himself. Even Howard Lee, whose mind seldom shifted out of second gear, could follow their logic. He jumped out and began pushing. 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 Howard Lee's unprotected left leg. A short but intense string of obscenities ensued, followed by his jumping back in and yanking 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 the cross seemed to be giving them a slow parting bow that ended with it toppling over onto the grass.
Left behind amidst the exhaust fumes, and shreds of denim on Catawba Street, a small-to-medium sized, mixed-breed dog watched two small, red orbs merge into the neighborhood's outdoor Christmas lighting, and bayed in savage triumph.