FOREWORD: Just before moving to Hawaii in the summer of 2004 while working at a newspaper in Dickson, Tennessee I was writing the first short stories I'd written since I'd published the collection three years earlier. This particular one was a modern day tale in the Southern Gothic style inspired by a lot of Flannery O'Connor I'd been reading at the time. I wasn't sure if I was cut out for the style, but it has turned out to be one of the stories that I get compliments on most often. I have since considered writing an entire book of short stories based around Eli, Davey and their respective friends and families. It has not taken root just yet. But I still feel like there is a very dark world yet to be explored here.
“I reckon we can kill the sumbitch,” Eli said as he wiped the sweat from his forehead
and pulled the pouch of Red Man Plug out of his back jeans pocket.
“That’s just going to give us more problems,” Dave replied, not wanting to admit Eli
was on to something.
The two men stood over the limp body of a middle-aged man in the middle of a hay
field. It was noon, and that meant just plain uncomfortable and buggy when it comes to
July in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Nobody wanted to be there – least of all the man on the
ground – and whatever was going to come of this situation needed to come and come
It was just too damned hot for fightin’ or fuckin’ – let alone killin’.
Sweat ran down Eli’s back and between the stench of his body, the smell of the tobacco
in his slobbery mouth, and the lingering fumes of some god awful wine on the
unconscious man’s breath, Dave was just about set to vomit. Or maybe it was just the nerves. His stomach always got all fucked up when the shit
was going down.
It had been that very same way back in October when he and Eli had snatched the cash
from that convenience store out on Highway 412. The cops had caught on quick and
although they got away, Eli was left with severe cramping in the abdominal area for
nearly a week.
“Wondering if you’ll get caught is worse than getting caught,” Dave had said a few
But now those cramps were returning, and whatever they were going to do had to be
done soon so the healing could begin.
Honestly, Dave didn’t give two shits whether this heap on the ground was living or
dead, and in his experience the deader the better. They tell no tales, according to some
pirate on a ride at Walt Disney World he had seen as a kid – back before Dave had
drowned both his parents in their own swimming pool when he was just 11 years old and
made it look like a drunken accident.
His parents being drunk was NOT an abnormal occurrence, so when he decided to get
them out of his hair – it was actually quite easy. But that’s another story.
Now he had stomach pain, a body to deal with and a partner in crime so dumb that he’d
often been said to be pictured next to the Webster’s Dictionary entry for the word
“I’d just as soon set the fucker on fire right here and be done with it,” Eli said with a
grin. “Get back to the house in time to see Fear Factor.”
Dave just sighed.
“Jesus, Eli,” he said. “That wouldn’t be very inconspicuous would it? I ain’t going to
jail for this pile of shit.”
“Nobody’d see smoke,” Eli said. “Put some of that powder on ‘eem. No trace in a week
or two. Won’t even be buzzards around much.”
Dave gave the body of the man a swift kick and paced around it a time or two, noticing
for the first time that the man was wearing glasses. The kick didn’t wake the man, but he
did groan and begin to move slightly. Dave stomped on his skull hard – twice – and he
went silent and limp again.
“You notice that before?” Dave asked, looking at Eli.
“That he was wearing glasses?”
“Yep,” Eli said. “I seen it.”
Dave just grinned as he ran through all the times in his head that he could remember
hearing someone say on television, ‘You wouldn’t hit a guy with glasses would you?’
Having given it some more thought, Dave knelt down, sat the man up into an upright
position, hauled off and punched the bastard right in the nose, popping the glasses in half.
They fell to the ground.
“Wouldn’t hit a man with glasses, would you?” Dave said in a mocking whiny voice.
“Yeah!” Eli cheered. “Fuck this fucker.”
After a few more paces around the body of the seemingly lifeless, but breathing man,
Dave had come to a decision, and his stomach had began to churn.
“Okay,” Dave said in with a certain amount of finality. “Alright!”
Eli began moving from foot to foot quickly like a housedog excited about getting to go
outside to take a leak.
“What’s the deal, Davey,” he said. “What do you think?”
After a long pause, Dave spoke.
“Do the deed, Eli,” he said. “Take care of the business and then we’ll kill him.”
Eli, moving even more quickly. Excited. “You got it, man,” he said. “Shit yeah.”
Eli reached down into the man’s back pocket and pulled out a large leather wallet and
began going through its contents.
After a moment Eli came up with a driver’s license from the state of Louisiana that read
Frank Owen Cash and a wad of various denominations of cash. The total – about eighty
“Frank Cash,” Eli said laughing out loud. “That’s a good name for this one I’d say.”
Eli took out a lighter and melted down the driver’s license and handed the wad of
money to Dave, who snatched it from his fingers.
“Eighty-six dollars,” Dave said with a small grin. “That’ll get us by for a day or two.
It’s about time to go somewhere else.”
Dave took one last look at the beaten up man and turned away toward a distant highway
across the field where a sedan sat abandoned on the shoulder of the road with a brick
lying in the driver’s seat and a window broken out.
“Hope that thing gets good mileage,” Dave said and looked back over his shoulder at
Eli. “Fuck it. Set him on fire if you want. But do it now and let’s get going. I could use
some Waffle House and it’s hotter than three hells out here.”
Eli took off running, arms flailing, over a nearby hill to a blue truck sitting on a dirt
road out of sight of pretty much everything on the planet. He produced a can of gasoline
from the bed of the pickup and ran back to the man who had just begun squirming again.
Dave was already to the car and he cleaned the glass out of the seat and pitched the
brick onto the side of the road.
As he started the engine he saw Eli splashing the clear liquid all over the man, who had
apparently been somewhat awakened by the strong smell and a general sense of what was
about to happen to him.
Dave put it in drive and headed east on the highway toward the nearest Waffle House
he could think of. It would take about an hour to get there and he figured Eli would know
which one to come to.
A ‘whoosh’ in the rearview mirror and a barely visible glimpse of rising flames and
barely audible shriek of a man about to die made Dave’s stomach sting just a bit, but
thinking of his dinner plans would help.
That old blue clunker would come rolling up into the parking lot just as the sun was
about to set.
Dave always loved to be at his favorite Waffle House when the sun was setting. It was
located up on a hill and everything just looked so friggin’ pretty from up there. And no
matter how hot it was outside, Waffle House always had the AC cranked up.
Good food, good view and a little climate control are just about all Dave ever needed
Life was good, and that long drive over to the restaurant was usually enough to settle
his stomach enough to handle a fiesta cheese steak sandwich and some loaded up hash
browns – no matter what had just gone down.
‘How lucky can one man be?’ Dave thought to himself and he turned on the radio to
find that the burning man’s preset was on the exact station he liked to listen to.
‘Hell of a guy,’ he thought as the car rolled down the rural highway and disappeared
over a hill headed to Columbia – home of one good fucking Waffle House.