Jackson Jackson had had a good day. He and his wife had been to a barbecue at his best friend Big Lou Casey's ranch up in Hickory Ridge, a huge spread off of Route 49. They were all having a good time, drinking iced Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, watching the steaks sizzle on the two large grills Big Lou had set out in the yard, and engaging in a good-natured horse shoe contest.
Then Big Lou's wife Thelma had come trotting out of the house, one hand holding her bonnet to her head, the other gingerly grasping her throat. Her announcement that the president had been shot effectively ended the party as people wandered away to their cars and trucks, stunned.
Jackson had grabbed a couple of beers and loaded his wife into the truck and headed toward home, which was the little town of Fargo, about five miles north of the junction at Interstate 40. He didn't really give a damn about Kennedy. He hadn't voted for the SOB, but then again, he'd never voted for anybody. Politics was for other folks.
Betty sat next to her husband, staring out the window. She was a pretty woman with light brown hair cut short, framing a fragile, delicate face that radiated a sense of vulnerability. She was rarely able to muster up much more than a nervous smile. Living with Jackson had crushed much of her spirit. She knew she could never leave. Not that she couldn't live without him, because she could. Just that J.J. would track her down, beat her, and bring her back home. He'd done it before. She could remember vividly his evil grin as he kept pounding her in the face, his fist closed and lethal. Her only pregnancy had resulted in a miscarriage, a direct result from one of Jackson's beatings. The doctor had told her she could never have children. At first devastated, she soon saw it as the work of a God who knew better than to bring a child into their loveless union.
She also didn't give a damn about Kennedy. Her life was close in and isolated. She had enough of her own misery in which to steep, she didn't have much energy left over to feel bad for anyone else.
She watched as he drained the first can and threw it at her feet on the passenger side, and then she flinched at the all too familiar sound when he popped the top on the second one. The drunker he got, the more likely he was to want her sexually. The thought made her shudder in revulsion.
It was getting dark when she noticed, up ahead and pulled off to the side of the road, a big Cadillac stopped with the hood up. Three Negros were peering under the hood. She heard Jackson grunt and was surprised to see him pull over and park behind the disabled vehicle.
All three men turned to look as Jackson put the truck into park, left the engine idling, and got out.
Betty watched as Jackson, Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand, bent under the hood to look where one of the Negros was pointing. There was a faint wisp of steam curling up over the hood. The other two men kept looking back over their shoulders at the truck.
Betty knew better than to get out. She saw J.J. straighten and shake his head while the three men nodded in agreement. Then he gestured toward the truck and, after some hesitation, and two her utter astonishment, the Negros piled into the bed of the truck, carrying huge black cases. They were well dressed, she noted, for Negros.
Back behind the wheel, J.J. took one last pull on his can of beer and tossed it with the other at his wife's feet. She asked him what was going on and he told her he was giving them a lift to the junction. They were musicians on their way to Little Rock. That explained the big black cases, but not her husband's sudden concern for his fellow man. Especially when that fellow was black. Pressing the issue would only get her smacked. She just wanted to get home, maybe take a warm bath and hope J.J. passed out before he could climb on top of her.
She peaked back at the Negros only once, but it was enough to see that one of them was showing the other two a small pistol. She was about to tell J.J. when she noticed him staring in the rear view mirror. He'd seen it too. He pulled over abruptly and got out. She was afraid to look, but turned anyway and watched through the window. J.J. demanded the gun and, amazingly, it was handed over without question. She heard one of the Negros tell J.J. to be careful, that it was loaded. He got back in the cab and, without a word, pulled back onto the highway and punched it on up to 80 Mph. The gun was tucked into the front of his pants at an odd angle, barrel pointing up.
She started to ask him about the gun when he suddenly reached out and savagely slapped her across the mouth. Along with the rush of warm blood across her lower lip, a familiar taste, came an almost numbing shame, for the occupants of the bed had witnessed the assault.
Something inside her snapped and she found herself reaching for the gun. Her head was clouded with pain and an increasing roar that made everything seem surreal. The noise blocked out all thoughts, except one. Things happened in slow motion for her as she yanked the gun out of his pants, avoiding his right hand as it tried to snatch it out of her grasp. The same huge, fleshy, scarred hand that had kept her with J.J. for all those years. She leaned back against the door, pointed the gun at him, closed her eyes and squeezed the trigger, twice.
In the small cab of the truck, the explosions were cacophonous. The first slug tore into, and through, J.J.'s neck, leaving an ugly, gaping hole in front, and judging by the tissue and blood splattered on the window behind him, an even more ghastly exit wound.
His hands went to his neck as the second slug crashed into his chest. The truck swerved off the highway and spun 360 degrees as his foot instinctively slammed down on the brake pedal. A cornfield, sprouting 7-foot-high stalks and thick with growth, provided a barrier that kept the truck from rolling over as it crashed into the field. The truck went in nose first and ground to a halt when the corn had reached the doors, leaving the bed free of the field. The engine purred gently until Betty calmly reached over, slid the gear shift into park, and turned the key off. She still held the gun.
The three Negros had been tossed about in the bed but, miraculously, none had been thrown from it.
It was a struggle, but Betty finally wedged herself out of the small space the door made when she pried it open against the stalks. The Negros were staring at her.
What had been shrouded and murky in her mind suddenly crystallized, her next course of action destined. She put the gun in her mouth, closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. The force of the shot blew out the back of her skull and sent her sprawling into the corn where she collapsed, her weight causing the stalks to give slowly, as if gently laying her to rest. She ended up on her stomach, the back of her head, or what was left of it, facing skyward.
It had happened so quickly that none of the three men truly understood what she had done. Lester leaned over the bed and was sick. Jimmy Lee was holding his forehead, which was bleeding from a deep gash over his left brow. The blood dripped ominously through his fingers. He began to moan softly. Leon, his left kneecap shattered, dragged himself over to his brother.
Instinctively, they knew the gravity of the situation. Two dead white people, both shot with Jimmy Lee's gun.
It had turned sour so suddenly, for all five of them.
Just like in Dallas.