R.D. watched the colors flash off and on for several minutes. In his mind, they seemed pleasant but fuzzily distorted. After a few indecisive moments, he pushed open the door and went inside….”
by j.b. hogan
From his seat by the door, R.D. Cross used the bickering of the Sons of Africa defense committee as a cover to slip out of the building unnoticed. He headed for the bright lights of downtown, the annoying memory of the hot, smelly committee room occupying his consciousness all the way.
The same old useless plans, he told himself, as he walked along the narrow streets of St. Edward, so ineffectual. They talk a fair match, but nothing ever happens. Nothing changes. We’re a farce. The Sons of Africa. No more than fools.
R.D. passed through a very poor section of town, a small tropical ghetto, its houses of scrap wood and tin, its streets overflowing with refuse and people. Just beyond were several blocks of dingy bars and seedy hotels. R.D. passed the bar hawkers, the pimps, and the working girls without looking up. He was at home on these streets but they still disgusted him. Ignoring the propositions as he walked along, R.D. felt the anger rising in his blood, the nerves tingling on his back, the feverishness in his head. He hurried along.
As he came near the outer edge of the bar and hotel row, close to his own neighborhood, he paused in front of a flashing, colorful neon sign. In bright reds and greens, the sign advertised:
JACOB’S PAWN SHOP
SILVER * GUNS * COINS
R.D. watched the colors flash off and on for several minutes. In his mind, they seemed pleasant but fuzzily distorted. After a few indecisive moments, he pushed open the door and went inside.
* * *
By nine forty-five the foursome had reached the thirteenth tee on the back nine of St. Edward’s Oceana Country Club golf course. The party were all North Americans: Ted Gianni, fat, balding, overpriced periodontist; Ralph Corzine, stocky, gray-haired banker; Dave Carson, tall and athletic looking marketing executive; and Tommy Martin, the handsome and lean club pro. Each man had a black caddie, local bright-eyed youths, ambitious, hoping to get a good tip.
“What do you say, Tommy,” Ralph boomed from the tee, “a two or a three wood.”
“Use the driver, Ralph,” Martin said matter of factly, “you don’t want to play it too short.”
Ralph laughed loudly and unnecessarily. His shot, a fair hit, traveled about 130 yards and came to rest in good position on the left side of the fairway.
“Good one,” Martin said.
“Way to go, Ralph buddy,” Ted said, slapping Ralph’s outstretched hand, “good shot.”
“Hey, hey,” Ralph said. “Last up. Best hit.”
“Right,” Martin said. The group moved on down the course, their caddies following behind.
“They sure keep everything nice here, Tom,” Dave said, indicating with a wave of his hand several busy young black men nearby. The young men all wore the club’s blue uniform and were tending the course as the golfers walked along towards Ralph’s lie.
“Yes,” Martin said, noticing one of the workers oddly starting to cross the fairway towards them, “we pride ourselves on that. We feel that when people come down here to play golf, the course should be at least as good as what they left at home, if not better.”
“Well, you’ve done a fine job,” Dave commented. “It’s great down here.”
“It sure is,” Ralph added as the club worker continued to approach them.
Dave looked over just as the worker came up next to the group and stopped. The worker glowered at the golfers.
“Yes?” Martin asked him. “What is it?” The youth stepped forward, his right hand in the pocket of his overall uniform.
“I’m R.D. Cross of the Sons of Africa,” he said.
The golfers looked at him without understanding. R.D. pulled his right hand out of his pocket. The caddies dropped their bags and ran. Martin dove and rolled on the grass. Dave hesitantly moved to his right. Ted and Ralph froze.
“And,” R.D. went on quickly, wielding a long barrel .38, “I execute you in the name of the black peoples of St. Edward.”
R.D. fired once, striking Dave squarely in the chest. The bullet hit with a thud and blood spurted out of the entry wound. Dave fell straight back, making a low gurgling sound. R.D. fired four more shots with remarkable, deadly accuracy. Ted fell with a hole in his temple; Ralph, a small red spot appearing in the middle of his forehead. The other two shots dropped a crawling Martin and one of the fleeing caddies, but they were not fatal wounds. The remaining caddies, zig zagging across the course, escaped. The entire episode lasted less than a minute and was strangely, almost preternaturally quiet outside the range of the shooting. To anyone more than a few feet from the scene, the only sound they would have heard would have been the sharp report of R.D.’s .38. The men had died with so little fuss.
R.D. emptied his last round into one of the golf bags that lay, clubs askew, near the dead and dying men. Beyond the carnage, on either side, Martin and the caddie lay still — bleeding and in pain-hoping their assailant would leave them for dead.
But R.D. was done. He pocketed the weapon and calmly walked away. As he wound his way through the streets adjacent to the club, he heard the wail of sirens but paid them no mind. He walked on quietly. He felt like a great weight had been lifted from his body. He thought of the defense committee and smiled to think how they would have to deal with the police and the papers. He pictured them scrambling to deny him, to deny he was a member of the inner circle of the Sons of Africa. He laughed out loud.
His path led him away from downtown and toward the ocean. As he went along, R.D. thought about the shooting, and how strange it was, how easy, how the men had died so quietly-with hardly a struggle. He thought of his family then and how he had freed them; he felt very good about it and proud of himself. He thought of the Sons of Africa again and how he had done the work they would not do themselves. He told himself that when action was required he had taken it. That he had not just stood by and let things happen anymore. He had intervened. He had acted. He had solved.
Yet, as he reached the soft, sandy shore and heard the small waves breaking lightly, there was still something nagging at him. Some doubt about something gnawing at the back of his consciousness. Looking down, he saw the remains of a small bird, its body speckled lightly with blood and partly split and torn. But not eaten. And then he thought once more of the men on the golf course. He saw the blood coming out of them. And he saw them lying, sprawled awkwardly, on the ground. Dead and dying.
A strange sound started in R.D.’s throat then, involuntarily at first. He felt it push its way up from inside himself, stronger than his will to suppress it. And he realized he had begun to laugh. It was hardly different than crying. He tried to stop but couldn’t. It made him feel out of control, as if he were a third party to his own life. As if the laughter came from somewhere else, from someone else.
He struggled harder to stop the sound, but it would not stop. He felt it spread over and through his body, lightening his cares, freeing him. He walked forward, and finally, at the last, he felt himself being cleansed, purified, washed deep inside. He walked forward, further and further, until it was as if he floated free, numb to the past and the future, submerged in the final now. Free at the very end. At last.
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
J. B. Hogan is a writer and poet living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has a Ph.D. in English (Literature) from Arizona State University (1979) and worked for many years as a technical writer. His credits include the four-story fiction chapbook Near Love Stories online at www.cervenabarvapress.com (forthcoming) and short stories, poems, and non-fiction in: Istanbul Literary Review, Aphelion, Rumble, The Swallow’s Tail, Poesia, Bewildering Stories, Avatar Review, Copperfield Review, Ascent Aspirations, Megaera, The Pedestal Magazine, Dogwood Journal, Mastodon Dentist, The Square Table, Raving Dove, Mobius, Viet Nam Generation, The Mark Twain Journal, Arizona Quarterly, and San Francisco Review of Books. More from J.B. Hogan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.