I scraped a dead kitten off the road yesterday morning—a calico only a few days old. Over the years I’ve scraped all manner of dead things off the two-lane highway at the end of my drive—raccoons and rattlesnakes and most species of abandoned house pets—and I’ve buried them all behind the old stone barn.
After tending to the day’s burial, I drove the DeSoto into town, stopping for breakfast at Irma’s, where Irma herownself served me coffee thick as river mud, shared gossip about the preacher’s daughter putting on weight like a milk cow, and talked about Billy Roberts getting him a football scholarship to Texas A&M.
Our town didn’t have much, but we did have high school football. Seventeen straight trips to the state semi-finals had college coaches recruiting our boys. Them that were recruited played their four years, a few graduated, but, except for Wayne Earl Trout’s two years in the Canadian Football League back in ‘90-’91, none ever went pro. Most of the boys came back home where the high school displayed their football trophies in a glass case just inside the front door and their social status was determined by whether or not their team took the state championship during their varsity season.
Football, though, remained the ticket out for a few of the boys. Doug Wilkins stayed in Bryan after college and has him a used car lot he advertises on late-night television. Milford Bates is selling insurance up in Dallas and Denny Delacroix probably did best of all. He got him a stunt man job out in Hollywood and we all watch for his name in the credits when we get to the movies over at the dollar theater.
“Full scholarship,” Irma told me after laying down a plate of greasy eggs and greasier bacon. “My cousin is so proud of that damn boy of his, you’d think he’s gonna bust a gut ever time he mentions the boy’s name.”
“Says his boy’s gonna be the first one to go pro,” she said. She refilled my coffee. “Real pro. NFL.”
“He’s got the arm,” I agreed. I’d seen him play. “Could be the next Roger Staubach.”
“Long as he keeps his head on straight,” she said. “Don’t do nothing stupid like Leroy Ledbetter.”
Two years earlier, Leroy Ledbetter had been our first boy recruited by a major out-of-state college. Halfway through his first season, him and another boy got liquored up and skinned some tomcat they found behind the dorm and figured to be feral. Turned out the cat belonged to the Dean of the Business School and Leroy’s back home now after spending six months in jail on a cruelty-to-animals charge.
I finished the bacon, sopped up the last of the eggs with a corner of my toast, and inquired about Irma’s weekend plans, thinking we might catch the dollar show together if she’s of a mind.
After breakfast, I hitched up my pants and strode on over to the hardware store where Ernie Ledbetter—Leroy’s second cousin and second-team All-District Defensive Tackle during his senior year—helped me select a new shovel for scraping up the dead. Nobody ever talked about it, but I think everbody knew I’d do the right thing by whatever I found at the end of my drive.
We talked about the high school football team’s chances the coming year.
“Defense looks sharp,” I said. “Most of last year’s starters are back.”
“We gonna put any points on the board?” Ernie asked. “We ain’t got no quarterback. A&M’s got him.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe it’s time we all went back to church, started praying for the team.”
“You seen the preacher’s daughter?” he asked. “She’s swoll up like a puffer fish.”
I told him I hadn’t seen the girl since end of the school year.
“Damn shame, too,” he said. “Girl had a figure like an hourglass. Shame to see her losing it, start looking like all the other women round these parts.”
“Girl’s young enough to be your daughter,” I said.
“I seen the way all the boys used to look at her. She didn’t hardly walk down the street without ever boy in town panting after her.” Ernie shook his head. “Damn shame the way she’s let herself go.”
We talked of other people we knew, then Ernie rang up my purchase and saw me to the door.
I walked down the street, carrying my new shovel and an earful of gossip, headed back to my DeSoto. I stopped when I heard shouting coming from behind Trout’s Package Liquor.
“You can’t do this to me,” said a male voice. “Not now. Not after everything I’ve done.”
A female voice responded. “Do it to you? You did it to me!”
I couldn’t understand what the male voice said, but the female voice responded, “You think it’ll be easy around here for me? It’ll be…oh, God, it’s happening again. I can’t take the pain.”
“You have to,” the male voice said. “We ain’t got a choice.”
A truck engine fired up and I heard exhaust rumble through a pair of headers. Then tires squealed and a blood-red Dodge Dakota shot around the corner, a burly teenaged boy in a letterman jacket behind the wheel, a teenaged girl nearly glued to his arm.
I watched the truck disappear down the road, past Wilkins Television and Small Appliance Repair, and around the bend south of town. Then I threw the shovel in the back of DeSoto and drove home.
A few minutes past three a.m., I awoke to the sound of rumbling headers down near the end of my drive. I heard a truck door slam and then heard tires squealing. I listened to the truck’s headers echo through the night until they finally faded away in the distance.
I scraped a dead baby off the road this morning—a Caucasian child only a few hours old—and carried it on the end of my new shovel around back of the old stone barn. As I dug a fresh hole next to the previous day’s kitten, I wondered how long it would be until the preacher’s daughter regained her figure and Billy Roberts threw his first touchdown pass for A&M.
originally published online September 8, 2010
Michael Bracken is the author of 11 books—including the private eye novel All White Girls—but is better known as the author of almost 1,000 short stories published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Espionage, Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin, Hardboiled, Hot Blood: Strange Bedfellows, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, and many other publications. Additionally, he has edited five crime fiction anthologies, including the three-volume Fedora series. Learn more at CrimeFictionWriter.com.