Stateside - A Story of Flashbacks

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
he had just come home from vietnam, and all he wanted was to go back to work and lead a normal life. but things had changed for too much around his north texas hometown. fasten your seat belt as mark weston takes you in his hot rod pickup truck at 100 m.p.h.- plus to a mind-blowing climax.

Submitted: March 06, 2019

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Submitted: March 06, 2019

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Definitions

"Hurst" shifter- brand name - a floor mounted gear shift for manual transmission, usually high-performance cars. It is built in a thick, sturdy fashion to withstand fast, hard shifting. It is much less likely to break or malfunction than a normal shifter. Hurst shifters are designed with a sure-grip type top, perfectly fitted for the hand. (sometimes referred to as "Four on the floor")

 

Posi-Traction - in rear wheel drive, normally high-performance cars. When the propelling wheel, either left or right, breaks loose or spins, the other immediately "kicks in" resulting in propulsion by both sides simultaneously. 

 

Rear-end Gear Ratio - rear wheel drive only - the number of times the drive shaft (connects the transmission to the rear axle) turns in relation to one complete turn of the rear wheel or wheels. Thus, 3:93 to 1 as is referred to in this "work" is simply, almost four turns to one. the higher the number (3:93) the better the acceleration, thereby preferred by drag racers. In high performance cars, usually used in conjunction with posi-traction. Rear-end gears are located centrally in rear axle.

 

Headers - in effect, are a separate exhaust pipe for each cylinder, Thus, on V-8 engines, one unit of four headers per head per side. Each unit normally connects to a muffler pipe that extends to the rear of the vehicle. "OPEN HEADERS" applies when header units are separated from muffler pipes or pipes are removed from vehicle altogether. This is very noisy and is not "street legal", but creates a freer exhaust flow and as much as 15% greater horsepower.

 

CAM- (high performance) allow far larger than normal amounts of air and fuel to be introduced into combustion chambers resulting in much greater horsepower and a marked increase in RPMs. (Rounds per minute)

 

Holley - a brand name carburetor, usually for racing engines.

 

CFM - (cubic feet per minute) - the amount of air drawn into an engine through the carburetor.

 

C.I. - cubic inches - designates engine size. 

 

Hemi- hemispherical shaped valve compartments in cylinder heads. (Chrysler Patent) 

 

ACP - Automatic Colt Pistol. 

 

Red-Line speed - "red line" refers to the maximum number of RPMs an engine can attain without suffering damage or possibly exploding. 

 

Speed- shift - manual transmissions only - to shift all gears in rapid succession with accelerator continually floor-boarded. RPMs are at a near "red line" status before each shift. 

 

Dual-Quad - two four barrel carburetors. 

For my father,

James F. Alexander, THE MAN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He had just come home from Vietnam, and all he wanted was to go back to work and lead a normal life. But things had changed for too much around his north Texas hometown. Fasten your seat belt as Mark Weston takes you in his hot rod pickup truck at 100 M.P.H.- plus to a mind-blowing climax.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitions

"Hurst" shifter- brand name - a floor mounted gear shift for manual transmission, usually high-performance cars. It is built in a thick, sturdy fashion to withstand fast, hard shifting. It is much less likely to break or malfunction than a normal shifter. Hurst shifters are designed with a sure-grip type top, perfectly fitted for the hand. (sometimes referred to as "Four on the floor")

 

Posi-Traction - in rear wheel drive, normally high-performance cars. When the propelling wheel, either left or right, breaks loose or spins, the other immediately "kicks in" resulting in propulsion by both sides simultaneously. 

 

Rear-end Gear Ratio - rear wheel drive only - the number of times the drive shaft (connects the transmission to the rear axle) turns in relation to one complete turn of the rear wheel or wheels. Thus, 3:93 to 1 as is referred to in this "work" is simply, almost four turns to one. the higher the number (3:93) the better the acceleration, thereby preferred by drag racers. In high performance cars, usually used in conjunction with posi-traction. Rear-end gears are located centrally in rear axle.

 

Headers - in effect, are a separate exhaust pipe for each cylinder, Thus, on V-8 engines, one unit of four headers per head per side. Each unit normally connects to a muffler pipe that extends to the rear of the vehicle. "OPEN HEADERS" applies when header units are separated from muffler pipes or pipes are removed from vehicle altogether. This is very noisy and is not "street legal", but creates a freer exhaust flow and as much as 15% greater horsepower.

 

CAM- (high performance) allow far larger than normal amounts of air and fuel to be introduced into combustion chambers resulting in much greater horsepower and a marked increase in RPMs. (Rounds per minute)

 

Holley - a brand name carburetor, usually for racing engines.

 

CFM - (cubic feet per minute) - the amount of air drawn into an engine through the carburetor.

 

C.I. - cubic inches - designates engine size. 

 

Hemi- hemispherical shaped valve compartments in cylinder heads. (Chrysler Patent) 

 

ACP - Automatic Colt Pistol. 

 

Red-Line speed - "red line" refers to the maximum number of RPMs an engine can attain without suffering damage or possibly exploding. 

 

Speed- shift - manual transmissions only - to shift all gears in rapid succession with accelerator continually floor-boarded. RPMs are at a near "red line" status before each shift. 

 

Dual-Quad - two four barrel carburetors. 

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Stateside

(1)

Davis, Texas- 1973

 

Mark Weston was looking out the window, it wasn't supposed to be raining this time of the year, not in this part of the state, he thought. This was to be the day for drag racing at the blacktop near U.S. 287. After all, drag racing was fun, and fun was what it was all about especially now that his three-and-a-half-year tour in that Vietnam toilet was over. He had been out of the Army now only two months and was thinking seriously along the lines of picking up the pieces and trying to reconstruct his life. Not that it was all that great before the army, and not that it was going to be any better now, but he'd sure as hell get an A+ for effort.

Before Mark got his "invitation" from Uncle Sam back in '69, he was a fair to middling grease monkey. His place of employment was Otis Petty's Garage in Wichita Falls. Otis was always trying to drum up business by telling all the tourists he was Richard Petty's cousin. But everyone who knew Otis, knew it was two-hundred proof bullshit, just like ninety percent of the rest of the things that came out of his mouth. If he told you "shit stinks" you might be tempted to wonder. But listening to Otis never bothered Mark, and besides, what a place to work if you were a drag racer. Otis' garage was very well equipped. 

Otis Petty was a fifty-seven-year-old widower. His wife had died of a brain aneurysm fifteen years ago. He started his auto repair business in 1953 in the backyard of his home on SR 79 just outside Wichita Falls. Marsha Petty was not the only person ever to die of an aneurysm, but it was how and when it happened that always bothered Otis. 

They were entertaining guests one summer night in 1958. Otis and some of his and Marsha's friends and relatives were sitting around the dinner table. Marsha was bringing in the food. As she brought in a large bowl of potatoes, Marsha suddenly stopped in her tracks. Her eyes opened very wide as she dropped the bowl. Marsha managed to say "O.... Tis" before she fell dead. One of the people at the table was her sister, Amy, who cried hysterically as she tried to revive Marsha. Otis ran to the kitchen and called an ambulance, but knew it was useless; his Marsha was gone. 

Otis and Marsha never had a child, as she had known of his sterility when married in 1945. She always told him,

 "It don't matter, honey, all I want is you." This was music to his ears. He loved Marsha deeply. 

When they married, Otis was fresh out of the military. He had spent three years in Europe as an infantryman. He worked as a farmhand for eight years before starting his freelance auto repair business. He did well enough as a shade-tree mechanic to quit the farmhand job. By 1963, OTIS PETTY'S GARAGE was well established as one of Wichita Falls best.

Mark had a '56 Ford pickup, short-bed, with a hopped up 428 C.I. engine under the hood. It also had a Hurst four speed shift, and a posi-traction rear-end, geared for the occasion. It had run 11.7 seconds in the quarter mile.

Before Mark was shipped to Nam, Otis had agreed to keep his pickup for him. He occasionally drove it to the coffee shop just to keep it loose and the battery charged, it spend the rest of the time covered up in the last stall of the garage to protect that immaculate candy apple red paint job. But there was nothing like having it home in his garage, where it was now, and had been since his return. It was all tuned up and ready to race, but no go. It was raining.  

 

 

(2)

Mark was not only a decent mechanic, he was also a good boxer, something he learned in Army boot camp. The boxing coach, a big black fellow named Conrad Crump (he had once broken the jaw of a man who called him "Connie" in the presence of his mother) was amazed how fast Mark was honing his boxing skills. Mark fought four bouts during basic training, losing only one, that being to a Puerto Rican, whose fists, Mark would later say were "Faster than the speed of light." But what the hell, three out of four wasn’t bad.

Now that he was a civilian again and glad of it, all he wanted to do was go work for Otis, and try to be a normal human being instead of some crazy bastard chasing "gooks" through the jungle, ten thousand miles away. 

As he stood in front of his bedroom mirror, he tried to assess what he saw. He had no objection to his physical appearance. He was a five foot ten-inch one hundred eighty-five-pound mass of muscle. He was also far too handsome for his own good, with his jet-black hair and deep-set hazel eyes. It was what he saw in those eyes as they stared back at him that was a little distressing, as if some part of the vicious goings on of Southeast Asia still lingered there. But maybe that wasn't it. 

Unlike some of his fellow soldiers in Nam, Mark was fortunate enough to have a home and a loved one to come home to when the U.S. finally got out of Southeast Asia (Thanks to President Nixon, or "Big Dick" as Mark liked to call him). He lived with his father on their farm, two miles north of Davis on SR 19, an unimpressive little town, fifteen miles from Wichita Falls. The population of Davis was 4700, and probably always would be. They had a two-story farm house and a garage right below Mark's room, home of the hotrod pickup. He had been born and raised right here in Davis. He was now twenty-five and still had no problem living in his father’s house, even after having been away four years. 

His father Jim Weston was a forty-four-year-old alcoholic, but looked fifty-five. Mark loved his father, however, Jim Weston, no small, weak man by anyone's standards, slapped Dawn Weston, his wife and Mark's mother, during one of his drunken stupors one night in 1963. Mark would never forget how scared he was as he saw her sprawled across the kitchen floor not moving, thinking she was dead. He would also never forget the look on his father's face, one of fear, remorse, and regret, as Jim stormed out of the house, hopped in his Rambler station wagon, and went directly to Prairie Mary's honky tonk, where he always went after a fight with Dawn. The only thing was that in their sixteen years of marriage, their fights had always been verbal. Jim had never laid a malicious hand on Dawn since they had met in junior high, drunk or not. Not, that is until July 17, 1963, the day before Mark's fifteenth birthday. Two minutes after the stunning blow landed on Dawn Weston's face, she awoke with Mark kneeling beside her, asking if she needed his help. She said no and simply got up and went up to her room just as if nothing had happened. By this time, Jim was sitting at the bar staring at a bottle of Southern Comfort. It was the most foul-tasting whiskey he could think of but it didn’t matter. He had just slapped the crap out of his wife, and couldn’t even remember why. How could he go home? Mark, satisfied that his mother was not injured, went on up to bed himself. It was only 8:00 P.M. but there wasn’t much else to do. At age fifteen (almost) he had not yet discovered girls, at least not to any great degree, but it was the middle of summer vacation, and this was Davis, Texas. What more could a guy want? 

 

 

 

(3)

Jim came in at 8:00 A.M. the next morning. He had fallen asleep in his rambler in the parking lot of Prairie Mary's after stumbling from the front door to his car, a twenty-five-yard walk, but the route you take if you're plastered is closer to three miles. He came in the house, still half shitfaced, even after having slept for five hours. All the same he was hell bent on apologizing to Dawn. He stumbled upstairs, finally making it to the bedroom door,

"Dawn? Dawn, honey, it's me!" No answer. He opened the door slowly and looked inside, it was as silent and still as a room that had been locked, condemned and unoccupied by a human being for ten years. Yet it was the room that he and Dawn had made love in not two days ago. The bed was made, and everything was neat, very neat. In fact, it was so tidy, it made one of those bedrooms on the cover of "Better Homes" look like a pigsty. Many things went through Jim's mind in the next five seconds, and not a damn one of them good. His two main thoughts were: Was she dead? Did she leave him? Well, she wasn’t dead. 

He then walked over to Mark's room. His door was open. Mark slept soundly. Jim had to know what was going on. He woke Mark and asked him where his mother was.

"In bed, I guess, Pa." But she was not. Dawn had left, forever. 

It wasn’t exactly a happy birthday for Mark. It was as if "Look Ma, no Ma!" Happy Birthday! Mark remembered overhearing his mother talking with her sister, his Aunt Paula, as she told her,

"If Jim ever hits me, it’s over."

"She sure as hell wasn’t whistling Dixie," Mark thought. Jim kept telling him how sorry he was for hitting his mother. Mark always said he didn’t hold it against him and that he forgave him, but thought, "Too bad Ma Didn’t. "

 

 

 

 

(4)

He finally got tired of looking at himself in the mirror. He thought he would go down and check out the pickup and hope for better racing weather tomorrow. It checked out in every way, timing, fuel, flow, the works. It was ready for all comers. It was the fastest machine in Davis and you could take that to the bank. 

Tomorrow had come and it was marvelous, not a cloud in the sky. He couldn’t wait to get down to the blacktop, where he hadn’t been now since 1969. According to Otis “The Mouth” Petty, drag racing was still going strong down there. Some of the locals called it the “Nigger Nationals”, an interesting misnomer because all the participants were white guys.

It was about a twenty-minute drive to the blacktop. As he drove along a steady fifty, he started thinking again. Lately, thinking was not producing anything he wanted to think about, but what the hell. It was 2:00 P.M.

 

 

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(5)

Laura Mason was Mark's high school sweetheart, and if it weren’t for her, he would still be a virgin, but she was there and she loved him with all her heart, and then some. They met during the summer between Mark's sophomore and junior years. Laura was a year older and had already had one affair. Mark's fall from innocence came one September night in the back row of the Silver Spur Drive-in in Wichita Falls, and for the next few months, he couldn’t think about anything but Laura. She fell deeper in love. They continued to date throughout high school, and upon graduation. Mark went to work for Otis Petty. It wasn’t long before Laura started hinting at marriage. He tried not to show it but this was making him a little uncomfortable, but she could tell, and began to feel distraught. Just the thought that Mark might not want to marry her was enough to send her over the edge, which it eventually did.

 

 

 

 

(6)

Mark had worked for Otis for about a year when the wrecker towed in a 1956 short bed Ford pickup truck, which had thrown a rod. The fellow who owned it knew only two speeds. Ninety and parked. It was a shame too because the body was in good shape. Its owner, a fat bald, rich, business man from Dallas, didn’t believe in fixing things, only in replacing them. So, he sold the truck to Otis for five hundred dollars. Otis immediately parked it in the last stall in his garage and pulled the blown engine out, which was a six cylinder. Mark began to get interested in drag racing since he picked up a copy of "Hotrod" magazine a while back. He had also seen some pretty impressive machines running around Wichita Falls. One day at work he asked Otis what he planned to do with the pickup.

"Want to buy it?" asked Otis.

"How much?" Mark replied. "And what am I supposed to use for an engine?"

"Not to worry, my boy."

Otis led him to rear storage room of the garage and there sat the 428 engine.

"All she needs is a carburetor, and I’ll sell it to you for two hundred, and the truck for what I paid for it." Otis offered.

Mark stared a hold in that engine for a good thirty seconds. Otis could read his mind.

"I’ll be damn if we ain't gonna have us one badass pickup truck on our hands." Otis thought.

Six months later it was a reality. He paid Otis little by little out of each paycheck until truck and engine were paid for. He catalog ordered the parts for his truck to save money, and brought it slowly but surely to drag racing status. He made several trips to the blacktop during the next year and a half, losing as many races as he won, but gained valuable experience at both driving and repairing. He had long since sold the old jalopy he used to drive.

 

 

 

 

(7)

Mark continued to be evasive on the marriage issue with Laura until one day it came. The first word of the draft notice was "Greeting." A rush of fear and disbelief struck his heart like a bolt of lightning. He feared not only the prospect of going to Vietnam, but simply of telling Laura. But that wasn’t all he had to tell her. He wanted to break it off with her for some time now, but she was so in love with him, and he could never scare up the balls to tell her.

This was Friday, what a day to get shitty mail. He called Laura and asked her to meet him tonight at the Sodbuster Cafe, where he had taken her many times to eat in the last two years, but he was not looking forward to tonight. A thought entered his mind that he quickly dismissed. Getting drafted sucked, but what an excuse to end it with Laura. He could have kicked himself in the ass for thinking it.

When he walked in the door of the Sodbuster around seven, he saw Laura sitting in a booth near the window. She greeted him with a bright smile. Laura was a shapely, five-foot six-inch, one hundred twenty-five-pound blonde and tonight she looked simply stunning. For a moment, Mark almost forgot why he wanted it over. Most any other guy in Wichita Falls or Davis, or anywhere else would probably love to get in her shorts. He was all ready to lay his cards on the table until he saw her smile. She was making it tough.

"Hi, honey." Laura said, still smiling. It was getting tougher.

"Hello gorgeous." 

"I hope you're hungry, cause I am." 

"That’s why we’re here," he said. Mark wished food was the only reason they were here, but it wasn’t, was it? 

"I’m all set for spaghetti." he said, rubbing his stomach.

"I should have guessed." she said. "And I’ll have the seafood platter."

"I should have guessed." Mark said, and they both laughed. 

When the laughter subsided, a serious concerned look appeared on his face. Laura spotted it immediately and asked him why. 

It was now or never, but there was no getting around it. He had to spill it. 

"We've got problems baby." he said, not looking at her, but at a spot on the tablecloth. Laura was about to ask what it was when the waitress came for their order. A thirsty second reprieve, Mark thought. They ordered their dinner and then Laura asked him what the problems were. He pulled the draft notice out of his pocket and placed it on the table before her. After reading it she had the same look on her face as a poker player would after seeing his four jacks beaten by his opponents straight flush, with a five-thousand-dollar pot at stake.

Laura put her face in her hands for a full minute, then slowly looked up at Mark.

"When do you go in?"

"I report for my physical May ninth, after that I don’t know."

"What does this mean for us?" she asked. 

"I don’t know."

"Haven’t you thought about it any further, I mean about.... you know."

"What good would it do to get married now and have you be a widow six months down the road because I got my fucking head blown off in Nam?" he said, louder than he meant to. The man in the next booth turned around and stared as if Mark had just cut off a raunchy fart that drifted his way. Laura's eyes widened a little at his mild outburst. "Who said you would be sent to Vietnam, not everybody gets drafted goes there." she replied, sadly. 

"Where do you think they're going to station me, Disneyland?"

"Oh fuck you! " she sobbed.

"Honey, listen," he said in a low voiced as he moved to her side of the booth. "I didn’t ask for this, you know. Going into the Army, let alone to Nam is the last thing I want, but I’m sure as hell not going to be one of those damned hippy draft dodgers!"

A few minutes later, their food came and they ate, but they didn’t enjoy it.

 

 

 

_________________________

 

About the time Jim Weston was slapping his wife Dawn to the kitchen floor that summer evening back in 1963, Laura Mason was out with Bobby Blaine. She had just turned sixteen and he was the first boy she had seriously dated. They had been seeing each other for about a month. Bobby was a senior at Wichita Falls High School. She was a junior, and Mark a sophomore, starting in September. Mark and Laura were only friends at the time. Bobby Blaine, at six feet and two hundred pounds, was the starting fullback for the school football team. He and Laura met at a school dance as the term ended in June.

Tonight, as they were cruising the streets of town in Bobby's '55 Chevy, he asked her if she would like to checkout Lake Wichita, that there was supposed to be a meteor shower tonight. He had tried several times in the past to be alone, really alone, with Laura, but this was not possible at either his or her home. 

After she told him she didn’t think it would be right to go out to the lake with him, he pursued the issue and finally convinced her.

He parked near the shore on the North Side of the lake and killed the engine.

"Sure, is pretty out here," was the last thing Laura said as a virgin.

Laura's parents never found out about her affair with Bobby. Although she had wanted to tell them, she was afraid of what their reaction might be. Lara suffered severe guilt complexes for some time afterward. 

 

 

 

 

(8)

Mark was only a half mile from the blacktop now and he could hear revving engines already. As he approached the area behind the starting line, a race had just begun. It was a Plymouth Barracuda against a Chevy Chevelle. The lighter Barracuda with its 340 C.I. engine jumped off the line quickly and maintained the lead to the half way point, but the Chevelle with its 427 engine began to gather a head of steam, and soon overtook the lesser horse powered Plymouth, beating it by four car lengths. 

This was something Mark had severely missed the past four years, and the first thing he wanted to do was see if there was anyone here he knew. But before he could close the door of his pickup, he could see that they were. He saw that familiar looking red '65 Ford Mustang fastback parked off to the side over near the starting line. It was Chubby Chambers. Chubby was acting as official starter for the races. His Mustang wasn’t fast enough to get out of its own way, but he enjoyed racing anyway. The guy was so damned fat, his car should have been given a weight handicap.

"Hey Chubby!" Mark yelled. Chubby looked around at first but didn’t recognize him. What he did recognize was the Ford Pickup. Chubby then knew who he was looking at, and grabbed a double handful of his thinning hair. "Holy shit! Is that you Weston?!" Well how the hell are you, soldier boy?"

"Fair to middlin'. How's it going, fat ass?"

"I love you too, slick." Chubby countered. 

Henry "Chubby” Chambers and Mark had been friends since grammar school. Chubby had always been just that, chubby. Mark was skinny as a kid and started filling out about the time he entered high school and started lifting weights. Chubby just ate more and got fatter. When it got to the point where he was about as broad as he was tall, some of his schoolmates taunted him by saying things like, "Hey Chubby, did you walk to school today or roll?" When Mark heard these insults, he would jump to Chubby’s defense. To add injury to insult, Chubby’s father always called him "Blimpy" and his mother just laughed. When Chubby was eleven, one day while walking home from school, two older boys dragged him into the woods and sexually assaulted him. Since that time, Chubby suffered extreme shyness with girls, not only because of his bad experience, but also because of his weight. He remained obese until his death of a heart attack at age forty-five. 

"How long have you been stateside?" Chubby continued.

“A couple months.”

"Two months! And you haven’t looked me up?! Well that’s a fine how do yo fuckin' do!"

"Yeah I know, I’m sorry, but I’ve just been sort of trying to get my shit together, mainly between the ears, if you know what I mean?" said Mark.

"And without much success, I might add." he continued. "Yeah, that must have been some kind of hell over there that Nam shitpit, Chubby sympathized. "I also wanted to tell you how sorry I was to hear about Laura, she was a great gal."

"I don’t think I ever realized how great." said Mark.

In an attempt to lighten up the moment, Chubby asked, "When did you get your truck back?"

"I picked it up from Otis not long after I got back. I’ve just been kind of fiddling with it, you know, getting it ready run."

"Well did you come to run, or just watch?"

"Oh, I thought I’d try my luck." 

"Great." Chubby said. "Go get that beast and I’ll see if I can arrange a victim for you. "

If you're a drag racer, one of the orders of the day is open headers, especially at the strip. But running that way on the streets was not a good idea because the cops would always get around to nailing you for excessive noise. Mark usually removed his tailpipes first thing before a race, as this gave him twenty more horse power, due to freer exhaust flow. And if your drag machine was a pickup truck, you opened the tailgate for better aerodynamics.

He fired up the 428, and it sounded good enough to eat. As he pulled up to the starting line, the Barracuda was waiting for him. Chubby used hand signals to align the bumpers over the starting line. Five seconds later, he lowered the flag and the race was on. The 428 roared, rear tires screaming. Mark took a half-length lead out of the hole, despite traction problems, but the Plymouth evened it up half way through the race. Marks big-block power began to show as he slammed the Hurst shifter into third. It was all over including the shouting. He won by five lengths. The fellows at the finish line watched in awe as the pickup thundered through the traps.

"Holy shit!" Chubby yelled.

"That’s a bad boy!" one of the guys exclaimed. 

Mark returned to the pits, along with the Barracuda. The driver of the Plymouth got out and congratulated Mark on a good race. His name was Jimmy Castile. His father owned the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Wichita Falls.

"I’d give my left nut to see you run that Chevelle. You thing you could take him?" Jimmy asked. 

"I don’t know, it looked pretty strong." Mark answered. 

"Its more than pretty strong buddy boy." a voice said from under the hood of the Chevelle. "I only let the hotrod 'Cuda take me off the line to get his hopes up, and I don’t waste my time on pickup trucks, especially Fords." said Gus Gantry as he slammed the hood of the Chevy after readjusting the carburetor for the streets. "Remember that." he said as he hopped in and drove off.

"That guy’s got possibilities," Jimmy said. "If he tried a little harder he could act like a fucking asshole."

"For real." Chubby agreed. "Aw piss on him, who’s next up?" 

Elbert "Gus" Gantry was thirty years old. In 1960, he was half way through his first year of high school, when one Friday afternoon, he beat a fellow student to a pulp in one of the school restrooms for stepping in front of him at the mirror. Gus was expelled by the school principal. One week later, he set the principals car on fire at the school parking lot. He did this in broad daylight in front of witnesses. This was indicative of the Gus Gantry mentality. He was given six months in reform school. But when Gus told the judge to "Go fuck yourself" the judge then said, "Make that a year." At his present age, Gus still lived with his mother, who average two bloody noses a month from his drunken rages. But if anybody had a "reason" to drink, it was Gus. He was a worthless homosexual. The only female affair he'd ever had was with a woman who was bigger and uglier than he was.

Jimmy ran and easily defeated an AMC Hornet with a 401 C.I. engine. "Why would anybody want to make a hotrod out of one of those things?" Jimmy thought. "I guess it takes all kinds."

Mark ran once more, this time against a 390 C.I. Mustang. The Mustang was fast, but not fast enough.

"I’m gonna call it a day." Mark said. "See yall'uns later."

"Hey, what’s your hurry, chief? Me and Jimmy were gonna float on down to the Cyclone for a few cold ones, and we’ve made up our minds were gonna be downright offended if you don’t come." Chubby said.

"Yeah, OK, you’ve got me." said Mark.

As the three of them left, others stayed behind to continue racing. It was 5:00 P.M. when they arrived. The Cyclone was already starting to fill up with the Saturday evening crowd. The parking lot was nearly full. It was one of Wichita Falls more popular honky-tonks, along with Prairie Mary's. It had ample parking (usually) and live country music Thursday through Saturday. After Mark, Chubby, and Jimmy finally parked, they all walked in together, none of them noticing the shiny black Chevelle in the rear lot. 

As they entered, the Juke box was playing a Hank Williams Oldie. It went "Hey good lookin' whaaaatcha got cookin'? Mark had always liked country music, especially now, since he hadn’t heard any to speak of for four years. They found a table near the center of the room. The cocktail waitress strutted over to take their orders. "Wutchall havin'?" she asked, looking at Mark. She was a slim, but firmly built blonde about twenty-three. Her nametag said "Beth." 

"Two buds and a... What's your pleasure, Mark?" Chubby asked. 

Jimmy looked up at Beth, and back at Mark, then said,

 "I don’t think he wants to answer that."

Chubby cackled like a hyena, then stopped and lit a cigarette. 

"Michelob light." Mark told her politely.

"Two buds and a Mic light, sweetie." Chubby said.

"You know where you can put "sweetie" Beth told chubby, and walked away.

Jimmy cackled like a hyena.

The three of them sat and talked for a while about cars, women, guns, and whatever else young men discuss. They'd had a couple of beers each and were about to leave when a large hand came to rest on Jimmy's left shoulder. It was Gus Gantry. Gus was a six foot two inch, two hundred thirty-pound typical redneck slob with a thick red beard. He had a couple of beers under his belt as well, but all that did was make him a bigger pain in the ass than he already was.

"Did you like getting eaten alive down at the blacktop today, hotshot?"

"Yeah Gus, I always enjoy it." Jimmy said to him.

"Well you better get used to it with that piece of shit you drive."

"Thanks for the kind words, Gus." Jimmy replied. "Sit down and have one with us."

"I don’t drink with faggots." Gus insulted. 

"Why don’t you give it a rest?" Chubby said, standing up to face Gus. 

"Why don’t you suck my nuts, fatass!" Gus was now yelling.

"I’ve already been called that once today, it’s getting a little old." 

"Then go on a diet you little shit bag!" Gus yelled as he shoved Chubby to the floor.

Mark stayed silent as long as he could, then stood up and approached Gus.

"Well, if it ain't the Ford pickup prick." Gus said to Mark.

In a calm audible voice, Mark stared at Gus with ice cold eyes and said,

"At least my Ma's a white girl."

Gus' eyes widened in fury and disbelief. He took a powerful swing, but Mark ducked it easily.

"Man, you're as slow as snail shit, just like your car." Mark taunted. 

Gus heaved back to swing again when, like lightening, Mark buried his left fist in his soft belly. Gus doubled over in pain. Then came the right uppercut. Gus straightened up, blood pouring from his nose. The coupe de grace was a series of six hard fists to Gus' face, which now resembled the spaghetti dinner Mark had some years back in the Sodbuster Cafe. Gus lay sprawled out cold on the floor after toppling a table and several customer' drinks.

"What’s this bastard's problem, anyway?" Mark asked Chubby, who was just getting up. 

"Right now, I'd say you are." someone over near the door said.

It was Robert L. Pearson, Wichita Falls' thirty-year police chief. Robert L. Pearson was sixty-seven years old. He was born in Wichita Falls in 1906, and had been its police chief since 1943. He was very popular with the citizens of the city. Pearson was six feet one and two hundred ten pounds with thick white hair, and was a very dedicated cop. On occasion, he would receive pressure from the county police on how to handle "certain matters," but always stood his ground. 

"He didn’t start it Robert L. Ill swear to it in court!" Derrick the bartender said.

"Ain't gonna be no court," Pearson said, as he walked over to Mark and extended his hand.

Mark had a puzzled look on his face as he took the Chief's hand. 

"I’d like to thank you for giving this asshole what he’s been needing for about ten years now." Pearson said, as he looked down at Gus. 

"Yeah...... sure." Mark said, with a degree of uncertainty. He had fully expected to be arrested when he saw the badge.

"What'cher name, son?" Pearson asked.

"Mark Weston, I’m from Davis."

"Ok, I’ll remember."

Mark then turned to the people whose table was turned over and apologized for their spilled drinks (no cheap items in this place) and asked if he could replace them. One of the people, an old man of about seventy-five, said, "No thanks son, it was worth it!" 

About then, two of Chief Pearson's deputies, whom he had summoned on his hand-held radio about the time that Mark's fist was buried in Gus' belly, came in and dragged Gantry's sorry ass off to jail. They also impounded his car.

As they went out to the parking lot of Cyclone, about to leave, Jimmy looked at Mark squarely in the eyes and said,

“Man, where did you learn to fight like that?"

"I picked it up in Army basic."

"Yeah," Chubby said, "I’d say you showed him a few of the basics."

Gus was released from the slammer the next day, but it didn’t matter. He had only three weeks to live. Gus would be screaming up U.S. 287 toward Amarillo on a dark, foggy Saturday night in his Chevelle at 110 MPH with a half empty bottle of Jim Beam on the seat beside him, when, without warning, a telephone pole would jump out in front of him.

As Jimmy Castile drove away, Chubby said. 

"Yo Marky"

"Yeah, buddy," he said as he walked toward Chubby, who was sitting in his Mustang.

"Want some?" Chubby said as he held out the small bag of white powder.

"Hey, where'd you get the snow?" Mark said as he stared a hole in the packet of pure white cocaine.

"Don’t ask, just call it a homecoming gift."

After looking around to make sure Chief Pearson and his men had left, Mark walked around to the passenger side of the Mustang and climbed in. 

"Okay, I’ll do a quickie, then I’m getting outta here. Got a straw?"

"Of course, I work at McDonalds, remember?" 

Mark unveiled the straw and took the snow. As he drew it in, half his face went numb and felt as if he could pick up Chubby's car with him in it and toss it through the front door of the Cyclone.

"Holy Jesus, that brings back memories!" he said as he leaned his head back and exhaled. Here, you keep what's left. I almost got hooked on this shit in Nam." he told Chubby as he began to recover from the high.

"Thank you, kind sir." Chubby said. Mark left.

?

?

?

 

(9)

He spent the rest of the weekend at home, tinkering with his truck and talking with his father. Jim was glad his son was home and welcomed the company. He had not had an intimate relationship since Dawn left, but continued to drink. He had, however, been sober enough of the time to keep the farm going, raising corn and livestock. He had hoped Mark would turn to farming now that he was home, but Mark chose to be a mechanic. 

 

 

 

 

(10)

“Cory”

It was now August 1973. It was also Monday, his first day back to work for Otis Petty. He had nearly exhausted what was left of his Army pay, and had no choice but to go back to work, but he was glad. He left home for work about seven. He didn’t have to be there until eight, so he stopped at Matt's Diner in Davis for breakfast. Matt's was the best of the half dozen hash houses in town. He pulled into the parking lot of Matt's. A cloud of dust engulfed the pickup as he parked. His previously clean truck was now anything but.

"When is this guy going to spend a couple of bucks and get his parking lot paved." he mumbled. As well as this place did, he could surely afford it. 

He walked in, hung his Stetson hat on the rack, (it felt a lot nicer than an Army helmet) and sat at the counter. A waitress approached with a menu, her name was Bertha. She was a fat homely woman of about sixty. Just as she placed the menu in front of him,

"Phone call, Bertha, I’ll get him for you." Cory said.

Cory was not fat, not sixty and most certainly not homely.

"Like some coffee, mister?"

"You read my mind." Mark said. 

"I did? Super!" 

He studied the menu as Cory got his coffee. She returned with it shortly and placed it before him.

"You gonna eat somethin'?" she asked.

"Yeah, I better, I got a long day ahead of me."

"Where ya work?"

"At Otis Petty's down in the Falls."

"Oh, well I work at Matt's Diner."

"Yeah, I can see that."

They both laughed briefly, and Mark placed his order. 

"Give me the two-egg breakfast, sunny side up, grits, bacon, wheat toast, and a large OJ."

"That it?"

"Should handle it."

"Super, I’ll have it for you in a jiffy." Cory said and took his order to the kitchen. He couldn’t help but check her out as she walked away. She was five feet two and about one hundred ten pounds with curly brown hair and was very gifted in the breasts. "Prime stuff" Mark thought briefly then returned to his coffee.

Ten minutes later she brought his meal. As she put it in front of him, she asked if he wanted a refill. He said no thanks and started eating. He was about to take his first bite when he noticed Cory still standing there, staring at him. 

"Something wrong?" Mark asked. 

"You know, you've got a face."

"Well uh.... if that’s a compliment, thank you."

?

From "The Fugitive"- 1964 QM Productions "Man on a String"

?

"It is, and you're welcome." Cory replied as she walked away, he smiled at her sort of curiously.

He finished his meal, got up, put two dollars on the counter, and walked over to the cash register to pay up. Bertha was there to take his money. 

"I got news for you mister, I didn’t have no phone call, Cory just wanted to wait on you." Bertha said.

Trying not to sound conceited, Mark said, "Yeah, I figured. Thank you, ma'am. Compliment the cook."

"Will do." she said, and he took his hat off the rack, put it on and walked out. The breakfast crowd was now starting to come in. 

On the way to his truck he stopped at the newspaper machine and bought a copy of the Wichita Falls Gazette. He threw it on the seat of his truck, not noticing the headline. It read:

 

"BODY OF NUDE GIRL FOUND IN CORN FIELD"

 

As he was driving out of the lot, he saw Cory waving at him through the front window. He waved back and headed out toward Wichita Falls. He had just cleared the Davis City limits and was cruising down SR 19, and before he knew it, he was having unpleasant memories again. 

 

?

?

 

(11)

He was following Laura home from the Sodbuster toward her place, a small house on SR 19 about half way between Davis and Wichita Falls, owned by her parents who were out of town for a couple of weeks. They sat on the living room sofa and talked about what they could be doing between now and Mark's May date with Uncle Sam, which was three months away. He didn’t need any more bad scenes tonight, so he just played along, knowing he still didn’t have the guts to tell Laura that he just wanted to go his own way, something that had been the case long before the draft notice. He hated himself for being such a chicken shit. As they sat on the couch, he asked her,

"Why do you hang around with me?"

"Prob'ly cause I love you." Laura replied. 

"Ya do, huh?" Mark looked up at her and said, secretly hoping she didn’t mean it.

“Of course I do, silly!"

"Why?"

"Oh, lots of reason."

"Care to reel off a few?"

She did. 

They continued seeing each other until May. The night before he was to report to Dallas induction center, over coffee at the Sodbuster, Mark said to Laura,

"Honey, I must tell you something."

He needed go no further, as she could see the words in his eyes. She began to cry and said,

"I think I know what it is, so never mind."

"Honey, I..." 

"I said don’t bother!!" she screamed, then got up and stormed out the door. 

The commotion had drawn the attention of the manager who walked over to the table, now occupied only by Mark. 

"Is everything all right, sir?" the manager asked.

"Yeah chief, everything's great." Mark said as he got up and put a dollar on the table. As the manager walked away, Mark mumbled, "Really fuckin' peachy."

He paid for the coffee and went outside to find Laura. She was gone. "Must have caught a ride." he thought. He drove home and started getting ready for tomorrow, then thought he would call. 

"Hello, Mrs. Mason, this is Mark, is Laura there?"

"Yes she is, but she doesn’t want to talk to you." Floy Mason said.

"Mrs. Mason, please, I." The line went dead.

It was probably just as well, he thought. There was not much future in it anyway. 

 

 

 

Sometime in Early June 1969

 

As she entered the bathroom, Laura stopped briefly and looked at herself in the cabinet mirror. She opened it and started at the bottle of Tuinol. She thought of Mark as she removed it from the cabinet. She shook it as she went to the kitchen to get the bottle of Jack Daniels she started thirty minutes earlier. She picked it up and headed for her Chevy Malibu which sat in her driveway in front of her bedroom. She got in and turned on the radio. Gentleman Jim Reeves sang "He'll have to go" as she opened the bottle of Tuinol. When Gentleman Jim finished his song, and a commercial for a headache remedy came on, she had swallowed the entire contents of the bottle of powerful barbiturates. She then chased it with a tall drag of Jack. She left the world in a maze of mass confusion. 

 

 

 

 

(12)

Jim Weston woke Mark at 5:00 A.M. on May 9th. 

"Time to get going, son."

"Yeah," Mark said in a sleepy, uninterested tone.

Jim drove Mark to Dallas in his Rambler station wagon. Mark slept most of the way. When they arrived at the Army induction center, which was right in the middle of town, Mark told Jim:

"You don't have to park, Pa, I’ll get out here, and good luck getting out of here."

As Jim pulled over, he looked around at the wall to wall cars.

"Yeah, it looks like I'm gonna need it."

"Take my truck to Otis for me, Ok Pa, he said he'd keep it for me."

"Sure will son, and good luck to you too. Remember, the fewer mistakes you make, the better off you'll be."

"That makes sense Pa, thanks."

As Mark entered the main room of the induction center, he became depressed as he looked at all the gloomy faces of the young men waiting to be de-civilianized. It was all he needed after last night. The sergeant at the front desk was calling out names in groups of six to go back for physicals.

"Anderson, McClain, Spencer, Harris, Weston, Cornelius!" he barked. 

He had barely made it on time. The physical was only half-assed. Open wide, spread your cheeks, etc. 

The final step of the induction procedure was "Sign here, son." By that time, it was 4:00 P.M. They left Dallas in an Air force transport plane about six. They were on their way to Fort Benning, Georgia. They landed in Columbus around 9:00 P.M., and took an Army bus to the Fort. As the bus finally pulled up in front of the barracks, Mark saw a tall slim sergeant standing on the sidewalk. "Jeez, this guy got more stripes than a zebra." he thought. He figured this was to be his drill sergeant. His name was Marlowe Biggs. As soon as about half of the eighty would be soldiers exited the bus, Biggs started his rendition.

"All right you shaggy haired slobs, line up, line up! My name is Sergeant Biggs, but as far as you peons are concerned, my name is Sir! The first and last thing you say when speaking to me will be Sir! You got that!?"

"Yes sir!" they all shouted.

"What did I just get through telling your hardheads?"

"Sir, yes sir!" the peons bellowed. 

"I hope you people aren’t gonna be a pain in the ass." Biggs said in a low, hopeful tone.

It was already after dark and a strange feeling had come over Mark. He knew what it was. He was already missing Laura. As he lay in his bunk that night he tried to think about other things, but without much success. The next day began a twelve-week program of discipline, exercise classes, and everything else that was Army. As well as of course, boxing lessons. By the fourth week of training, he was so involved with it that he had nearly forgotten about Laura, and everything else back in Texas. He had even almost forgotten there was a Texas. He had thought about writing Laura, but didn’t because he thought she wouldn’t accept his letter. He also couldn’t understand why he missed a girl he was planning to break up with, but he did. At mail call on Monday evening, he received a letter. It was only a half a page long.

"Mail call!" a voice shouted from the front of the barracks. When his name was called he went and got his letter and saw that it was from his father. The first line was not inspiring. "Dear Mark, I think you better sit down before you read this, son." He sat down on the edge of his bunk and thought,

"Aw shit, Otis wrecked my pickup." But it was worse, much worse.

"Your girl, Laura Mason, she's dead, committed suicide. Doc Masterson down in Wichita Falls said she went and dumped a bunch of barbiturates down her throat. Mark had already buried his clenched his fists in his eyes. He stayed like that for a good ten minutes, then gathered whatever mental power it took to read on. "They had to do an autopsy on her bein' it was a suicide. They found out she was pregnant son. Her Ma, Floy Mason swears up and down it was your kid. She was too hysterical to say a hell of a lot more. She found Laura in the front seat of her car t'other mornin' in their driveway. I hated to be the one to tell you son but I thought I should be. I'll close now, I know you'll be grievin'."

His tears fell onto the letter, smearing the ink. 

"Hey, hotrod." Fritz Bamford, Mark's bunkmate said, suddenly appearing in front of him. (Mark had long since told Fritz about his pickup)

"What in the hell is wrong?!" 

Mark, trying to compose himself, looked up at Fritz and said, "Got some bad news from home is all." 

"Oh... sorry to hear it." Fritz sympathized.

"I'll be ok. Just leave me alone for a while, all right?"

"Sure thing, buddy, sure thing." Fritz said and walked away. 

"Why couldn’t I just write her a fucking letter?" Mark thought, "It might have changed the whole thing!"

He managed to survive the rest of basic training, graduating fifth overall in his company. He did not go home on his week leave after boot camp. Instead, he accepted an invitation from Fritz to go to his home town of Macon, Georgia and stay with Fritz and his family. 

What happened exactly two weeks before the end of basic training was what Mark always knew would. He received orders for Vietnam. 

 

 

 

 

(13)

A cattle truck suddenly pulled out in front of him about five miles North of Wichita Falls. Having been snapped out of his deep thought, he hit the brakes and slowed nearly to a stop. "Be my guest" he mumbled to the cattle truck's driver, then put the Hurst shifter into second and zipped around it in the blink of an eye.

Mark arrived at Otis' garage at 8:00 A.M. sharp. He walked in the front office and Otis was there to greet him.

"Welcome back to the rock, champ!" 

"Thanks, it'll be nice getting back to work, I'm damned near down to my last dime."

"Not to worry, my boy, I’m gonna put you to work right now, and good news, the pay scale took a little jump while you was away. It's five bucks an hour."

"Hey, great, that's a heap more than I made when I left." 

"Only bad news is I only need you fer lubes and oil changes and cleanup. I got all the mechanics I need right now." Otis told him. 

"Oh, I suppose I'll survive." 

"At's my boy!" he told Mark, patting him on the back. 

Mark must have done thirty oil changes and grease jobs during his first week back. He also swept and kept the garage clean, and was often the last one to leave, along with Otis. 

He collected his paycheck on Friday and was about to go, when Otis asked him,

"Hey Mark, you think you can work a half day with me tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow, since when are you open on Saturday?

I ain't. I jess need some help cleanin' and getting' a few things squared away around the place. It'll jess be me and you, eight till noon, and that's four hours OT for ya. How 'bout it, champ?"

"Yeah, hell, why not." Mark agreed. 

"And what's the champ bit?"

" I heard about that whuppin' you put on Gus Gantry t'other evenin' at the Cyclone. Could'na happened to a nicer fella." Otis said, snickering. 

"Yeah, well, it was nothing he didn’t have comin’."

"Oh, I bleeve that my boy. If there was ever a man who believes in folks gettin' their just de-serts, you're talkin' to him, speshly that sack o' shit. Besides, Gus must be about twice your size too."

"Well you know what they say, Otis, the bigger they are..." 

"Fer a fact my boy, fer a damn fact!"

"Ok boss, see you in the mornin'" Mark said, heading for his truck.

"Righto!" Otis said back.

Otis was glad Gus Gantry had finally been given his "just de-serts" by someone. Gus had once worked for Otis in the same capacity Mark now did. He was always trying to tell the mechanics how to do their jobs, and when one of them would tell him he didn't need his advice, he would start getting mouthy and irate. Otis put up with it until it started happening every other day and began to offend the customers. Gus was changing the oil in a woman’s car one day and she asked him to also grease it. Gus looked at her and said, "Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll take care of your fuckin' car." She immediately told Otis, and he told her not to worry, that Gus wouldn’t be working for him another day. That evening, Otis fired Gus, paid him off, and told him not to show his face on his property again. But Gus came back the next day, half plastered, and started a fight with one of the smaller (of course) mechanics, using something the mechanic said to him way back in the deep dark past as an excuse. Otis called Chief Pearson, who sent two of his deputies down. Gus was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

Mark went by Lone Star Grocery on the way home to cash his check, the cashier behind the service counter was an attractive woman, about forty with an athletic physique. Her name was Shirley.

"I’ll have to charge you one percent, darlin'" Shirley informed Mark.

"No problem." he said.

"That’s the first time I’ve heard that today."

“One of those days, huh?"

"Yeah." Shirley replied.

As she counted his money, he thought, "Wow, forty and foxy."

"There yar hon."

"Thanks, maybe I’ll see you next week."

"I guess I’ll be here." she said. "Bye." He waved back.

On his way out, he saw Floy Mason standing in one of the checkout lines. He hurried out the door.

No sooner had he walked out of the Lone Star than he saw Chubby Chambers leaning on the fender of his Mustang. 

"Yo, Mark!"

"Hey Chub." Mark said, walking toward him. "Whatcha doin'?"

"I just came by to pick up a couple gallons of ice cream."

"Gonna eat em on the way home?"

"Ha-ha-ha." Chubby said, sarcastically. "Hey listen, how 'bout a couple games of pool? I’ll pay for the table, and I’ll give you five to one odds every game."

"What about the ice cream?"

"No problem, it’s in the cooler."

"Ok, but only for an hour or so, then I gotta get home."

"Great, lets haul ass!"

Five minutes later, they arrived at Herman's billiard parlor. The place was full of smoke, the visibility wasn’t too much more than the length on a pool table. 

"I guess I can hack it for an hour." Mark thought. 

If nothing else, Chubby was an excellent pool player, and was rarely beaten. They took a table in the corner of the parlor. It was one of only two that weren’t already taken.

"You break." Chubby said as Mark set up the balls.

"Eight balls the game."

"Thanks." Mark said. It’ll probably be my last shot of the evening."

"Aw bullshit, don’t put yourself down, chief." Chubby said.

"Yeah, well it’s not as if you’ve never handed me my ass at this game."

"True, but one buck will get'cha five, remember?"

"Yeah" Mark said as he scattered the billiards.

Before Mark knew what was going on, Chubby had cleared the table of all the striped billiards and sunk the eight ball.

"I can tell by the look on your face that you're worried all to hell and back about beating me." Mark told Chubby.

"Yeah, that wasn’t bad, was it?" Chubby said, laughing heartily. 

"Tee-hee, roar." said Mark. 

"You sure you didn’t let me win that one?" Chubby said, still laughing.

"Loser breaks."

"Fuck you." Mark said as he racked 'em up.

Mark again scattered the balls, and to his delight, the 3 and the 5 balls disappeared.

"You got solids." Chubby said.

"No shit." Mark quickly said. Chubby laughed.

He managed to sink one more ball before Chubby ran the table.

"Don’t you ever fuckin' miss?” Mark said, slightly irritated.

"Not too fuckin' often."

"Let’s play darts." Mark suggested, as he handed Chubby two dollars.

"Wussa matter boy, don’t you like a little friendly sport?" Chubby said, now laughing uncontrollably.

"Friendly sport, that’s a classic." Mark said as he headed for the bar to get himself and Chubby a bear. After drinking them, they left Hermans. 

"Thanks for coming, just call me "Texas Chubby" Chubby said, chuckling.

Mark flipped him the finger on the way out the lot. Chubby laughed again. 

 

 

 

 

(14)

When Mark got home, it had just hit him that he was dog tired. Jim Weston was still out in the south pasture. It was only seven thirty, but he just thought he'd see what he could find in the refrigerator, then hit the sack. He was considering going by the blacktop tomorrow after work. 

"Might as well, as long as I’m down that way." he thought. The pickup was running fine, so he didn’t have to prepare it any further. He ate, showered, and went to bed. As he was falling asleep, he started thinking about Matt's Diner, and Cory. 

He woke up refreshed at six-thirty, after nine hours of sleep. As he was dressing, he thought of Matt's Diner again. He left the house at ten till seven, and arrived at Matt's at seven. As he walked in, Cory was right there.

"Hey, dude." she said, happy to see him. 

"Hello Cory, my name's Mark. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you last time."

"Ain't no thang." she said. "You gonna be eatin' this mornin?" 

"Sure thing, gi'me the..."

"Two eggs, sunny side up, and OJ, right?"

"Hey, you remembered."

"Sure, I remember all my special customers."

He was the only patron in this place. It was Saturday morning and Matt's had just opened.

"Wutcha doin' up so early on Saturday?" Cory asked as she poured him some coffee.

"Gotta work, but just till noon."

"Yeah, I know what it’s like working on Saturdays, I’ve done in ever since I worked here." she said.

Mark finished his meal and was paying Cory at the register, then said,

"What hours do you work?"

"Well, I’m outta here at two today."

 

"Ok, if I pick you up at seven, that'll give you five hours to get ready."

She was about to give him his change, then stopped. With a surprised but pleased look on her face she said,

"You wouldn’t be askin' me out, would ya?"

"Did it sound like that?"

"It did a little."

"Yeah, I’m askin'." 

"And I’m accepting." Cory said as she handed him his change.

"Good." said Mark. 

He laid two dollars on the counter and said,

"And two for you, Booboo."

She laughed and said, "Thanks, my address is 714 North SR 19, see you at seven?"

"Five till." he said as he walked out. She was still smiling. 

He felt a happy feeling go through him for the first time in a while as he drove toward Wichita Falls. He started thinking about the address Cory had given him. It was only about three miles north of where Laura used to live, and where her parents still did. His feeling of happiness turned to depression. 

 

(15)

?

Mark and Otis spent the entire morning scrubbing the garage floor, and repairing broken down equipment. It had gone almost uneventfully, and would have been uneventful if none other than Gus Gantry hadn't stopped on the street out front (the garage was located on a side street just off U.S. 287) and revved up his 427 Chevelle, squealing his tires, and disappearing down the street and around the next corner.

"Motherfucker don’t know when to quit!" Otis had said in disgust.

Mark tried to ignore Gus, but some people just made themselves a bitch to ignore, didn’t they? he thought. 

He left work just after noon and started out of town down toward the blacktop. He thought it was interesting how the traffic signals were timed here on the main street, Wichita Falls. If you made one light, you made them all. 

About two miles short of the blacktop, Mark felt an urge to stomp on the gas pedal. He speed-shifted the Ford through all four gears, topping out at about 115 MPH. 

"Yeah." he said softly as he decelerated.

He arrived at the strip just in time to see Chubby Chambers and his Mustang get beat by about ten car lengths by a '69 Chevy Camaro. The Chevy driver had turned around, and had almost returned to the pits and cracked open a cold beer by the time Chubby crossed the finish line, Yes, no matter what you were driving, Chubby was there to make you look good, and that he did. He parked his Mustang and got out, shaking his head. 

"Long time, no see!" the Camaro driver yelled. 

"Funny man!" Chubby yelled back. 

"Ain't gonna kick much ass with that 289 under the hood, speed ball!" 

"Yeah, I hear ya!" Chubby replied disapprovingly. 

Mark parked his truck and walked over to the driver of the Camaro. He was a short, muscular, blond fellow named Marty Prose.

"Not a bad lookin' ride." Mark said, complementing the Chevy with its bright yellow paint and black racing stripes. 

"Thanks." Marty replied. "Say, I couldn’t help but notice your pickup, you must be Weston."

"That’s me."

"Chambers over there can’t say enough about you and your machine."

"Chubby tends to exaggerate a little."

"Well, I’ve got fifty clams in my pocket Ill risk to find out how much a little is." Marty said. 

"I thought you'd never ask." Mark replied. 

"Hey Chambers!" Marty yelled. "Get ready to start another one cause here we come!"

"Who's we?!"

Marty pointed to the candy apple red Ford pickup that looked so sweet, sounded like thunder, and moved like lightning. 

"I think you just bit off more than you can chew, Marty my boy." Chubby bragged. 

"We'll know in about a minute." said Marty. 

He hopped in his Camaro and fired up his 400 horsepower 396 engine, then pulled up to the starting line where Chubby was waiting. Mark pulled up soon after. His 428 was thumping away as he evened up with the Camaro. He looked over at Chubby, who said,

"Chew him a new ass, Mark boy."

"I plan to." 

Mark gazed down the half mile long blacktop. He could see the heat rise from it in the hot August sun. Two guys were standing at the quarter mile point, one with a stopwatch. Mark and Marty were now looking at Chubby, engines revved, clutches down. Chubby lowered the flag and both racers shot out of the hole. The torque from Mark's 428 broke the tires loose again. As they spun, the Chevy took a healthy one and a half length lead. Half way through the race, the pickup recaptured a half-length of it. It was now time to throw it into third, Mark's bread and butter gear. If he shifted any harder, he may have broken the strong Hurst shifter. Fifty yards before the finish line, he was even with the Camaro, as he crammed it into fourth. He took Marty by two feet. The stopwatch read 12.1 seconds.

"Hot damn!" Chubby yelled. "That one was too close to call!"

Mike, the stopwatch man, made a signal that the left lane took the race.

"Glory be!" Chubby rejoiced.

When Mark and Marty both returned to the pits and parked, Marty got out and as he walked toward Mark, he asked him,

"What carburetor you runnin'?"

"Holley 850." Mark said. "You?"

"650 Holley, I think that's where you had me."

"Well, you almost had me because I couldn’t keep the backend of this son of a bitch on the ground." said Mark.

"Yeah, I know, the weight distribution on a pickup truck is nothing to write home to mother about."

"You're right about that," Mark said, then thought, "I'd love to write my mother if I knew where she was."

"Well, time to get on home before the old lady has a shit hemorrhage." Marty said.

"I’m looking forward to a rematch, Weston." he continued, handing Mark a fifty-dollar bill.

"Thanks, next Saturday."

"Right on." Marty said as he drove away, giving a thumb up out the window.

Chubby waddled over to Mark and said, "He almost got'cha there chief."

"Yeah, but I'm fifty bucks richer."

"Your buddy Gus Gantry didn’t show up today. I wonder why." Chubby said then laughed. Chubby was Marks friend.

Mark drove home thinking how lucky he and the other fellows were to have a place to race. If it weren’t for the blacktop, they would have to take their chances out on U.S. 287 late at night, where sooner or later the highway patrol would horse collar them. The blacktop was an unfinished portion of Clay County's part of what was supposed to be SR 79, until the Clay County commission, most of whom must have had hemorrhoids for brains, decided they would run the highway another route, letting the one-half mile, two hundred thousand dollars stretch of road to go to waste, almost. It made a superb drag strip.

As he was waiting at a traffic signal, not far from the track, an impressive sounding automobile pulled up beside him. It was a Dodge Challenger, bright blue in color. As he looked over at it, he noticed, printed on the hood's air intake, -426 Hemi-. The driver looked at Mark and pointed his finger straight ahead (a popular gesture meaning "Let's race”). 

"No thanks." Mark yelled to him.

It wasn’t as if Mark was beyond racing on public streets, he had done it many times in the past, but he knew his pickup truck would have no chance against the outrageously powerful hemi.

The man driving the Challenger, whom we will not give a name, had, to date, won three pink slip drag races with his Dodge, and was a most unwelcome visitor to the blacktop. For those of you who don’t know what a pink slip (automobile title) race is, it simply means, yes, you guessed it, the winner gets the losers car.

A few seconds later, the light was green. The dual-quad equipped 426 roared as both the front wheels of the Dodge lifted off the ground. Then like magic, the Challenger was down the road and nearly out of sight.

"Whee Dogees!" Mark thought. The Dodge had just confirmed what he already knew. 

 

(16)

 

He arrived home around three, and thought he would take a nap before cleaning up and getting ready to pick up Cory. By six thirty he was ready to leave. Tonight, he was dressed cowboy style. Stetson hat, plaid shirt, blue jeans, and an old pair of cowboy boots he had pulled out of mothballs and polished. At 6:55 P.M. as promised, he knocked on Cory's door. When she answered it, he was momentarily speechless. She looked remarkable but in a conservative way. She was wearing a blue suit with shoes to match, 

"It must be five till 7." Cory said.

"Give or take." Mark said.

"Come on in." She said, laughing. 

Her house was small, but pleasant. Her parents had left it to her. They died in a car crash six years ago when Cory was fifteen. She didn’t speak for two years after it happened, spending that entire period in a mental care unit in Fort Worth. 

"I like your place." he said. 

"Thanks, it ain’t mine, it’s my folks" she said from the kitchen.

"Oh... where are they?"

"They're down in Houston seein' Uncle Tommy. He's sick with the cancer."

"Oh, sorry."

"All set." Cory said as she came from the kitchen.

They walked out and he opened the passenger door of the pickup and helped her climb in. Before he shut it, he noticed she was giving him a strange look.

"What's wrong?" he asked. 

"That's the first time a fella ever opened the door for me." she said.

"Are you serious?" 

"As a heart attack."

He thought, but didn't say, "What kind of guys have you been seeing?"

He went around and climbed in, started the engine, backed out and headed toward Wichita Falls. Cory listened to the rumble of the 428, and said,

"Somethin' wrong with your mufflers?"

"No, it's a high-performance engine, it's supposed to sound that way."

"Oh, you mean like a hotrod?"

"uh-huh." he said, smiling at her.

As they passed Laura parents' house, Mark looked the other way.

"What's wrong?" Cory asked him.

"Nothin', just admiring the countryside."

About two miles north of Wichita Falls, he noticed his gas gage needle getting uncomfortably close to the "E". 

As was the case with most drag racing machines, Mark's pickup truck was not exactly economical on fuel. With it's 850 CFM carburetor, three quarter race cam, and 3:93 to 1 ratio rear-end gears, it could never do better than eight miles per gallon, even when driven easily. He could remember a time long ago, when he drove it to Dallas to see the Cowboys play. On their way, he and Laura stopped at the Sodbuster for lunch, where they saw Otis Petty. He could remember Otis saying, "If yer drivin' that thing to Dallas, yer gonna hafta hock yer old man's farm ta pay fer the gas."

Wiley's Shell was just ahead. As he pulled in, he noticed the price for Super Shell 104 octane. It was 55.9 per gallon.

"Damn! What happened to the gas prices?!" he exclaimed.

"I heard we went and pissed off the A-rabs." Cory said.

He looked at her quickly, a little surprised at her comment. 

Self-serve was not very wide-spread in 1973. The attendant came out.

"Yassir, help ye?" he said.

"Yah, put in five bucks worth and don’t spill any." Mark said, "At that price, you can wash the windows, check the hood and tires, and give me a paint job." he said in disgust. Cory giggled.

"What color?" said the attendant as he put in the gas. 

"Never mind, I know you don’t make the prices."

"Ten four on that, good buddy." said the attendant. He was a tall, slim man with glasses, about fifty.

Just as the attendant was opening the hood, Mark saw the black Chevelle cruise by slowly. It crept on down the road and turned off two blocks farther on. 

"Where's the oil stick on this monster?" said the attendant, peering around the hood at Mark. 

"Forget it buddy. Just shut the hood, here's your money." Mark said, giving the man a five-dollar bill. 

He fired up the pickup and headed south on the state road. For the next few blocks, he looked carefully for the Chevelle, but didn’t see it. He drove on. They weren’t thirty seconds down the road when bright headlights zoomed behind them. Gantry couldn’t have been three feet off Mark's bumper. 

"Why tonight?" he thought. Just then Gus passed the pickup. When he pulled back in the lane, he slowed to 10 MPH. Gus then put his arm out the window and signaled Mark to pass. He wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction. He also was not going to take a chance on scaring the shit out of Cory on their first date. Then Gus came to a complete stop. A motor home then passed them blasting its horn. 

"That's right, Gantry, have your fuckin' fun." Mark thought. 

"What's he doing?! Cory shouted.

"What he's good at, bein an asshole."

"Do you know him?"

"Yeah, his name's Gus Gantry. I had a little run-in with him once."

Next Gus put the Chevelle in reverse, and started creeping backward. Mark did the same.

"My God!" Cory exclaimed. 

Now convinced that he wasn’t going to provoke Mark into a race, Gus threw the Chevy into first and sped away, tires screaming, and extending his middle finger. Then he vanished into the distance. 

"Thank God!" Cory said. 

"Ill drink to that." Mark replied.

Mark would never see Gus Gantry again. But that was alright because two weeks from tonight, Gus and his red hot Chevelle had a date with a telephone pole. 

After a nice meal at the Bumsteer Steakhouse in Wichita Falls, Mark and Cory walked back out to the pickup truck. He opened the door for her again. She turned to him and said,

"Hey, twice in one night, that's...."

He was kissing her. It lasted three minutes and it was wonderful. They finally came up for air.

"Don't waste much time do ya, mister?"

"We try not to," he replied. "Now what were you saying before I interrupted you?"

"I forget."

As they drove down 287 they talked about where they wanted to go next. Cory was still sitting next to the window.

"Why are you sitting way over there?" he asked her.

Cory smiled and slid over next to him on the pickups bench seat and leaned her head on his shoulder.

"That better?"

"Much." he said. "Where to now?"

She sat up and said, "Take me dancing."

"You got it. Do you like country music?"

“Does a bear shit in the woods?"

They laughed hysterically. 

He aimed the pickup toward Prairie Mary's. He didn’t like it as much as the Cyclone because there was no live band, but he didn’t need to have his evening blemished again by Gus "Asshole" Gantry, who frequented the Cyclone.

As they drove into the parking lot of Prairie Mary's, a drunk was being escorted out to his car. Nobody cared if the guy got somebody killed on his way home, Mark thought. 

They took a table for two near the juke box. A song was playing. It was "Bowling Green" by Glen Campbell. A waitress came and took their order. Two Michelob lights. The juke box was momentarily silent, but then another song started. Johnny Rivers began singing "Poor Side of Town"

"Doot doo doo waaaaah, shoobee doobeeeee," it went.

"Hey Cory I like this song, wanna dance?" Mark asked.

"Sure."

He took her by the hand and led her to the dance floor. As they danced, they embraced as if they had known each other all their lives. The song ended and he thanked her for the dance and they headed for the table, then Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" began to play.

"Oh, I love this one." Cory said. 

They danced until the number came to a close, then sat down. They talked for the next hour about everything from the weather to gas prices. Cory drove a light blue VW Beetle that once belonged to her mother. Obviously, she would not be as affected by rising fuel prices as most people. After a couple of beers each they left Prairie Mary's and pulled back out on 287. The street lamps were so bright, Mark had driven half a mile before he realized he hadn't turned on his headlights. By the time he turned them on, it was too late. He saw the blue and red flashing lights in his rearview. He pulled over. It was one of Robert L. Pearson's men. He walked up to Mark's window. He was a thin man with graying hair, close to fifty. His name was Bronson Ragwell. 

"Most of the rest of us in these parts like to drive with our lights on after dark there, pardner." Ragwell said.

"Sorry, the street lights were so bright, I forgot to turn..." 

"Save it, gimme your license." Ragwell ordered. 

Mark's license checked out OK, and as Ragwell was giving it back, he gave Cory a cold stare. She quickly looked away. 

"Say, didn't I see you last week down at the Cyclone?" Bronson asked Mark.

"Yes, I remember, you were one of the deputies who took Gus Gantry to the lockup."

"That's right, and you were the fella who beat the tar out of him."

"I'm trying to forget about that."

"Well, ole Gus ain't. All we heard from him all night in his cell was how he was gonna get back at'cha fer sucker punchin' him."

"Sucker punch, that's a hot one." Mark thought. He didn't think Gus could beat his own meat with efficiency, let alone anything else. 

"Well, I just finished what he started." he told Ragwell. 

"So it appeared. OK son, this one's a freebee. Next time, turn on YOUR lights, and you won’t see MY lights. Get it? Ragwell said, chuckling.

"Got it." Mark said, cranking his engine.

"Damn! What in tarnation you got under the hood of this thing?"

"A 428, it's fixed up a little."

"A little, my fanny." Ragwell said. "Next thing you know, I'll be givin' you a speedin' ticket."

"Only if you can catch me." Mark thought, but said. "I only speed at the track."

"Oh, you talkin' bout the blacktop? Well that ain't no problem, just keep it there."

"Gotcha." Mark said, and drove off slowly. Cory asked him if he would like to go back to her house for ice cream.

"What flavor?" he said, half kidding.

"What's the difference?" she replied, tapping him lightly on the shoulder. 

"Oh, none I guess."

They turned on the radio, and headed to Cory's. When they pulled up into her driveway, everything was peaceful. The crickets chattered. The glow of the porch light attracted dozens of insects. Cory's VW sat near the front door, it's bumper nearly hanging over the steps. After a few kisses, they got out and went in. He sat on the couch and looked around while Cory fixed their ice cream. She came in with two bowls of chocolate-chip. They ate, then talked. Mark told her as much about himself as he cared to. He told her about drag racing, his mother's leaving, Vietnam, and Gus Gantry. She then filled him in on herself. Some. She had worked at Matt's Diner for three years. When he asked her how long her folks would be away, she quickly got up from the couch.

"Want some more ice cream?"

He took her by the wrist and gently pulled her back to the sofa. 

"No thanks." he said, then kissed her. As they kissed, she pushed free for a moment. 

"Better watch your P's and Q's, mister."

"Yes ma'am." he said as he pulled her beneath him.

They made love. Later on, they went into Cory's room. He stayed the night, and when they woke, the made love again.

 

 

 

 

(17)

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Cristy Bradford walked out of Midtown Pub in Wichita Falls. The Midtown was a hangout for half the Falls' dried up old redneck lowlife, most of whom blamed everything and everyone for their problems. They couldn't face the real reason for their wretched existences' themselves. But Cristy's job was to keep these bums happy. This, she usually accomplished on her backside, provided, of course, they were financially prepared. Yes, it was "that part of town" and didn't every town of any size have one. Wichita Falls, although not a metropolis, was no exception. 

Cristy had just finished with the last of tonight's three "satisfied" customers. It was 1:00 A.M. She "worked" on the upstairs floor of the Midtown, but lived at the Wrangler Hotel, three blocks down. As she walked down the poorly lit street toward home, she failed to notice the Rambler station wagon parked across from the Midtown. She was only a block from the Wrangler when an arm slid around her neck, pulling tightly. She struggled briefly, then blacked out. The terror Cristy Bradford would experience during the few remaining days she had on Earth was nearly impossible to describe. 

 

 

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(18)

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Mark and Cory spent the better part of Sunday around her house. They ate, watched TV, fooled around, and he tinkered with his truck for a while. The only time they left the house was for a quick trip to the Davis Dairy Queen, where they had milkshakes. As they sat in front of the DQ, he wanted to ask her one of those "personal" questions that men always seemed to want to ask. He didn't want to offend her, but he knew he would have to ask sooner or later, so why not now. 

"Cory."

"Uh-huh."

"Let me ask ya a question, darlin'."

"OK, let'r rip."

"Do you date other fellas?" He felt like an idiot asking her because any girl who rated as high on the scale of a ten as she did, must have boyfriends to burn.

Cory giggled as she sipped her milkshake, then said, 

"Wouldn't you like to know?"

"OK, sorry for bein' nosey."

"No hon, it's OK. Ack-shually, I ain't dated anyone in a good while now, not serious least ways."

Mark tended to believe her and felt relieved. 

"How 'bout you?" Cory asked him.

He knew this was coming, but now she had every right to ask.

"No, none." he said.

"What about in the army?"

"All I wanted from the Army was out. Besides, I spent most of my hitch in Nam, so I wasn't in the mood too often."

"What about them Vietnam girls?"

"No way." he said. 

"And before the army?"

He was beginning to be sorry he asked about her love life.

"I had a steady girl through high school and on up to the time I entered the service. Maybe I'll tell you about it sometime, but please not now, Ok?"

Seeing the sadness in his eyes, she quickly said, "Sure honey, that's all right."

"Thanks, you're sweet." he said, and kissed her. 

When they got back to her place, they sat in the pickup, talking and messing around for a while. 

"Hey it's pushing midnight, and I've got to work tomorrow and so do you." Mark said. 

"Wanna stay over?"

"Yes, I do, but I'm gonna go on home. If I stayed, we prob'ly wouldn't get much sleep.

"Yeah, I reckon not." Cory said giggling. "Comin to Matt's in the mornin'?

"In all likelihood." he said as he kissed her goodnight.

He watched as she went in and locked the door. She then waved to him through the window. He cranked the pickup and headed home, and as he drove, he thought.

 

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___________________

"NAM"

 

"Thanks for everything, "Fritz, I've enjoyed it." Mark told Fritz Bamford as he boarded a bus back to Fort Benning. He was to leave tomorrow for San Diego, and from there, to Southeast Asia.

He spent his entire week after boot camp with Fritz and his family. Fritz' mother was a good cook and he got his fill. He also had to endure constant goo-goo eyes from Fritz' sister.

Heather Bamford was only thirteen years old, but had developed an instant crush on Mark the moment she saw him. He could never get a minute's peace. It seemed no matter where he and Fritz were or what they were doing, Heather was right there. One afternoon as they were working on Fritz' car, Mark looked up for a second to wipe the sweat from his forehead, and noticed Heather leaning in against a tree, staring, smiling. He put a fake smile on his face and nodded. Her smile grew brighter. Fritz noticed this happening and said to Mark,

"She pesterin' ya, Hotrod? I can tell her to cool it if ya want/"

"No, it's no big deal. She's a sweet kid."

That evening, Heather had invited three of her best friends to dinner. She had to show them the cute guy her brother had brought home. As they sat around the table, Mrs. Bamford said to Heather,

"You haven't had your friends over here all at once since your birthday party, have you, dear?"

"Oh Momma!" Heather replied, embarrassed. 

That night, as she lay in bed, she sighed and thought, "If only I were a little older."

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_______________

 

"You take care of yourself over there now, ya hear?" We'll be praying for ya." Fritz said. But what did Fritz have to worry about, he was going to communications school.

"Thanks, buddy." Mark replied, and took a seat on the bus. They waved to one another as the bus pulled away. 

On the flight to San Diego, he did very little sleeping and a lot of thinking, mainly about Laura. A couple of hours into the flight, the pilot announced that they were now passing over Dallas, Texas. It was about midday now and he wondered if he could look out the window in a few minutes and see Davis somewhere down below. Then he chuckled to himself, dismissing the idea.

He stayed in a barracks at the Naval Air station in San Diego for ten days before being shipped out. He made the trip on a Navy Missile cruiser, spending much of the voyage talking with some of the other fellows who were also headed for Nam. Sometimes, at night, he would walk out on deck and look up. He wondered how there could be so many stars. 

The cruiser docked at Nha Trang, South Vietnam, and they took an Air Force transport plane from there to a base just outside Saigon. After a three-day orientation, he found himself in the war zone. He had been issued an M-16 Rifle, and other items necessary for combat. As a sidearm, 45 ACP were issued. 

Mark belonged to the 317th infantry unit. Their job was to protect a section of Southwestern Saigon that had been particularly vulnerable to Vietcong attacks. The first few days of duty were relatively quiet. The sounds of battle in other areas could be heard in the far distance. At night, the flash of faraway bombs and mortars could be seen.

He could only wonder how long it would be before the shit hit the fan. It finally did, but in a most unexpected way. Part of the 317th was on patrol one morning near camp. Mark was told to stick beside an experienced soldier. In this case, it was Corporal Dennis Jacobs. Jacobs had been in Nam four years and knew all the ropes. As Jacobs, Mark, and a dozen other soldiers walked cautiously down a dirt road, they saw a man on an ox cart approaching. A little girl had what looked like a toy duck. She looked up at Jacobs and said,

"Look, soldier man, I make, you take." Jacobs took the duck and gave the girl a pat on the head.

"Maybe you shouldn't have taken..." Mark started to say.

"Aw don't worry about it, they sell these things in town all the time." Jacobs replied. As he walked on ahead of the rest, he then put the toy duck up to his ear and shook in gently, as if listening for sounds from within it. The duck exploded. Jacobs now no longer had a right arm or a head. Mark and the other troops scattered for cover. The Vietcong opened massive machine gun fire in the brush where the soldiers’ dove. Mark was behind a tree, looking around, everywhere. As the firing stopped, he looked back toward the road. Two U.S. soldiers lay dead on the roadside. In a single moment that would otherwise have been silent, he heard a twig snap behind him. He turned and faced his enemy. In the next fraction of a second, many things went through Mark's mind. Here he was looking at a total stranger who probably didn't want to be here anymore than he did, and who also wanted to get out of this situation alive. But one of them had to die and they both knew it. For this was the tragedy of war. As the gook raised his gun, Mark, out of pure fear, pulled his M-16 to his shoulder with lightning speed, and shot the gook through the neck. He looked at Mark with wide-eyed disbelief, then dropped his rifle and fell dead. Mark stared at the man he had just killed for several seconds, blinking his eyes rapidly. He then came to his senses and again started looking around himself frantically. Yes, Corporal Jacobs had known all the ropes, almost. 

After Mark and the other soldiers who had survived the ambush thought it was safe, they returned to camp.

An incident occurred about a year later that Mark sometimes had nightmares about. He and some of the other members of the 317th were combing what they were told was a heavily booby-trapped part of the jungle near their camp. Their mission was to spring the traps, rendering them useless. As they progressed through the thick brush, the point man and the soldier behind him suddenly disappeared. They had fallen into a fifteen-foot-deep pit where two hunger crazed Burmese tigers had been placed by the enemy, mangling them beyond recognition. Mark, to this day, could still hear the soldiers' screams.

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(19)

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He got home about 12:10 A.M. and parked outside. He slowly walked up the stairs to his room, then went and stood by the window, looking out. The crickets were making their presence known, as a beam of moonlight bounced off one of the pickup's mag wheels. "I really like her." he thought, thinking of Cory. He slipped off his boots and lay down on his bed, forgetting to set his clock. As he was falling asleep, two jet fighters flew over, about to land at Sheppard Air Force Base. Sheppard Field, just north of Wichita Falls, was where the plane bringing Mark home from Southeast Asia had landed. 

As he slept, he dreamed. He was walking toward the bathroom which was attached to his bedroom. As he opened the door, Laura stood by the lavatory, facing him, wide eyes. Her skin was a bloodless white. In her right hand was an empty barbiturate bottle. In her left hand was the cap. Mark stared at her with a look that was half sorrow and half fear. Laura began walking toward him, holding the empty bottle out to him. 

"Here stud, ya want one? They taste just like candy." she said forcefully with what sounded like the voice of a rabid vampire.

"Laura, I..." Mark tried to say.

'Don't Laura me, you FUCK!" she screamed as she turned the bottle upside down.

Mark, now wishing he was never born, said, stuttering, "It... it's empty."

"No shit, Sherlock" she replied in a hideous whisper. "Would you care to take a wild guess WHY it's empty, lover boy?"

"Laura, I didn't mean..." he said, the fear now gripping him like a vise.

"You're a LIAR!!" she screamed, with earthshaking volume. "Fuck 'em and forget 'em, is that the idea, asshole?! But that's okay, we're all just a bunch of cunts anyway, RIGHT?!"

"Honey, I loved you for years..." Mark pleaded. 

"Don't tell another lie, or I'll yank off your nutsack!!" Laura blasted as she advanced within arm’s length of him.

She grabbed him by the back of his neck with her left hand. Mark could feel the bottle cap gouging into him as Laura rammed the empty bottle into his mouth and down his throat. He fell to the floor, grasping his throat, and groping violently for breath, to no avail, and...

The next thing Mark knew, he was sitting on the edge of his bed, sweating profusely. "Oh Jesus" he moaned, trying to recover from his dream. It was 6:15 A.M. After thinking twice, he went in to the bathroom and took a leisurely shower. At 7:00 he left the house. After breakfast and some small talk with Cory at Matt's, he headed for work.

 

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________________

 

Two weeks later, the news of Gus Gantry's death came. Mark's only thought was that he could have predicted something like that happening to someone like Gus. Not even Gus' mother grieved him. 

 

 

 

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(20)

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At Otis Petty's one September day, as Mark was finishing up an oil change, he heard a sound off in the distance that was all too familiar to north Texans. It sounded like a cattle stampede but it wasn't. As he walked out front, he saw it. Out of the black sky, the funnel cloud was in full contact with the ground. It was coming from the Southwest, and not a slow pace. The tornado was still what appeared to be about three miles away, moving in a northeasterly direction. He quickly told Otis, who went out to look. 

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! A fuckin' twister!" he cried. "come on Mark, help me shut the bay doors." He helped Otis prepare for what they prayed wouldn't happen. Otis informed his customers about the approaching tornado. Some of them looked fearfully out the front window. Otis convinced them all to gather in the garage until it passed.

The twister finally did pass, but before it did, it took one farmhouse, the Wichita Falls armory, and a gas station with it. Nine people died, twenty-three more were injured.

Arnie Fitzsimmons had just polished off a few at Prairie Mary's, and was driving (or weaving) south toward his place as the tornado approached. But Arnie was as drunk as a lord, and had no idea what was going on, or what was about to happen. As he continued down County Road 11, he neared little Sarah Creek Bridge. In a way, it was a good thing he was drunk. The tornado swooped up Arnie and his Dodge Dart, sucking them a thousand feet into the sky in the beat of a heart. His car, or what was left of it, was later discovered near a deserted sawmill, three-quarters of a mile away. Arnie's body was never found. 

As Clifford Carmichael lay face down on the floor of his garage on his farm, just out of town to the west, he prayed for the best, but expected the worst. He was about to get it. 

Peggy Curtis, Clifford's neighbor, two hundred yards away, sat on the floor next to her refrigerator. As the twister raged by, Clifford Carmichael's head flew through her kitchen window, slamming into her dishwasher, leaving it blood splattered, then settling on the floor, directly in front of her. Peggy screamed.

Otis Petty's Garage, Mark's livelihood, was spared. Wichita Falls had been lucky, as the tornado had barely clipped the northwestern edge of town. Walter Cronkite spoke of it on the evening news.

 

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(21)

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Mark and Cory had just returned from a Friday night out and were snuggling on the couch, when he asked,

"Hey, you've never been down to the blacktop with me, have you?"

"Nope, you invitin' me?"

"Yep."

"What time you pickin' me up?"

"Oh, 'bout two fifteen. We'll hit the DQ first."

"Super!" Cory exclaimed.

They arrived at the blacktop about three. The usual crowd was there, with a couple of exceptions. One of which was Marty Prose. One week ago, Marty showed up with a new and larger carburetor on his Camaro, and had narrowly beaten Mark's pickup in their rematch. It cost Mark the fifty dollars he had won before.

"Yo, Marky!" Chubby Chambers yelled.

They got out of the pickup and walked toward Chubby, who gave Cory the same hard stare Bronson Ragwell once had. This time she returned it. 

"Hey Chub, I want you to meet Cory." Mark said.

"Ma'am." Chubby said, nodding slowly, but not smiling.

"Hi'ya." Cory said back, unenthusiastically.

Mark expected them to greet each other a little more warmly, but didn't give it further thought.

"You gonna run that thing or just stand here jawin'?" 

"Yeah, I thought I might go a couple." Mark said as he gave Chubby a look as if to say, "Get up on the wrong side of the bed today, chief?"

"I'm gonna take Cory on my first run, OK?" Mark said. 

"Fine with me. Pull it on up when it's clear. I'll try and find somebody for you to blow away."

"Will do. C'mon honey."

They climbed in the pickup and as they approached the starting line, 

"Is this gonna be scary?" she asked.

"Only for about twelve seconds."

She looked at him with a degree of uncertainty. Mark's opponent was the 390 Mustang he had faced some weeks ago and beaten by a couple of car lengths. Mark took the left lane, his good luck lane.

As their engines thumped, the driver of the Mustang looked over toward the pickup and yelled to Mark, 

"I see you got a passenger!"

"Yeah, call it a weight handicap!" Cory stuck her tongue out at Mark. 

"Well, that’s the pertiest weight handicap I ever saw!" said Wayne Jensen, the Mustang's driver.

"She looks even better from the back, as you'll see at the finish line." Mark taunted.

Cory grabbed the bill of his Stetson hat and pulled it down over his eyes. "Smartass!" she said. 

"Yeah, I got tired of being a dumb ass." Mark replied, as he straightened his hat. They fastened their seat belts.

Chubby readied them at the line and lowered the flag. Remembering his traction problems, Mark babied the pickup off the line, giving the Mustang the early lead. He slammed the Hurst into second. Cory screamed as the "G" forces pinned her to the seat. She grabbed the window crank and Mark's shirt sleeve. They were now even with the Mustang. Then came the magical third gear, and the pickup cruised to victory, winning by three lengths.

They returned to the starting line where Wayne Jensen congratulated Mark and said he wanted no more of his pickup truck. Mark stayed on for three more races. Cory watched from the starting line. Jimmy Castile had now arrived, and she tried not to lock eyes with him.

Mark finally called it a day and as they drove away from the blacktop, Cory said, "That scared the SHIT out of me."

"Sorry babe, I thought you might enjoy it."

"Well, as long as you enjoy it." she said, kissing him on the cheek.

"That's my girl."

As they drove home, Mark, against his better judgement, asked Cory, "What do you hear from your parents?"

After a few seconds of silence, she said,

"They wrote me a while back and said that Uncle Tommy only has about three months to live and they're gonna be Houston till he... you know."

"Sorry to hear it. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Who says I gotta tell you everything?! she shouted, then immediately recanted. "Honey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that." then hugged him.

"Ok, baby, ok." Mark sympathized.

As they pulled up to her door, he said, "See you at seven?"

"God's will." she said. They kissed. 

When Mark got home, his dad was out in the fields. He went straight to the kitchen and fixed himself a double deck bologna and cheese sandwich. He washed the knife he was using and as he was putting it back, he saw something in the back of the drawer that didn't belong. It was a syringe.

 

 

 

 

__________________

 

About an hour later, as Mark was sitting in front of the TV, watching an episode of "The Rifleman" the phone rang. He answered it, saying,

"Hello, Weston here."

"Yo, Mark boy." Chubby Chambers said, cheerfully.

"Hey Chub, what's happnin'?"

Lucas McCain had just gotten through striking six matches with his Winchester, in an attempt to convince some punk gunslinger to change his mind about wanting a showdown. 

"Not a hell of a lot. I just got back from the strip." Chubby said. 

"Kick any ass?" Mark inquired. 

"Nah. I don't think I've won a race since the invention of the wheel."

The punk gunslinger then drew his Colt six shooter and put out the six matches Lucas McCain had just taken the trouble to light. 

"Well, when are you gonna wise up and put some cubic inches under the hood of that Ford?" Mark suggested.

"Don't think I haven't had a few wet dreams about puttin' a 429 in there, buddy boy. But I'll never see the money, working in that damn hamburger joint."

"With a 429 in that Mustang, you'd hafta get yourself a pilot's license."

"For sure" Chubby said laughing.

Lucas was now putting his rifle back into his saddle holster, refusing to fight the punk, who was now thoroughly enraged.

"Hey, Mark buddy." Chubby said, then paused. "I need to ask you somethin', old friend."

"Shoot."

"Are you serious about that Cooper broad?"

"Who, Cory? Yeah, you bet'cha." Mark assured him. "Why?"

"Well." Chubby said, again pausing. "I think... I think she's got a rep."

Mark, not quite believing his ears, after a few seconds, said,

"Wudda ya mean a REP?"

"Well... I've heard some things about..."

"Like what?!" Mark shouted, now remembering the cold greeting Cory and Chubby had given each other at the blacktop.

"Hold on now Marky, the only reason I'm tellin' you this shit is for your own good." Chubby quickly added.

"What the fuck are you talkin' about, godamnit!?" Mark again shouted, jumping up from his chair, and turning off the TV/

"Maybe we ought to talk about it face up." Chubby said, calmly.

"To hell with that bullshit! if you can't tell me now, then FUCK IT!"

Mark slammed the phone into its cradle, not knowing that when he and Chubby met again, it would be the last time.

 

 

 

 

(22)

?

They found Cristy Bradford's body the day before Mark and Cory's trip to the blacktop. It was face down in a ditch along SR 79, just inside the Wichita Falls city limits. It was the twelfth corpse of a young girl discovered in Wichita and Clay counties since 1971, but this was the first one found in Robert L. Pearson's territory. He was hell bent on showing these county Mounties how to catch a murderer. Two Wichita County detectives paid Robert L. a visit on Monday.

"They all died the same way, Chief Pearson, a single stab wound through the heart, and they all had the hell beat out of them. But not a damned one of them was sexually assaulted." Detective Collins said.

"What type of blade does it look like they used?" Pearson asked.

"Well it wasn't no pen knife," said officer Swanson, Collins' sidekick.

"Went clear through and out the back of all of 'em." he continued.

"Jeez." Pearson said.

"And that ain't all. Every friggin one of them had a puncture mark in the neck, you know, like from a needle." Swanson said.

"The Clay County Coroner has found traces of some kind of hallucinogenic drug in some of the bodies, but that's strictly hush hush, OK?" Collins added.

"Right." Pearson agreed, then said, "This latest one, Cristy Bradford, she was a local whore. How 'bout the rest of 'em?"

"The occupations of the dead women have not all been the same." Collins said. "Not even close, so we know we're not looking for a guy who just goes after prostitutes."

"Well, the Bradford woman was found on my turf, so it looks like we'll be working together." Pearson said.

"Welcome 'board." said Collins. 

 

 

 

 

(23)

?

They had been going strong for three months. As he drove to work one Wednesday morning, he thought, "This chick is really starting to grow on me." Mark Weston was thinking seriously of settling down.

 

 

 

 

___________________

 

He began to think about a time back in high school when he had been having similar thoughts about Laura. He also remembered how those thoughts used to dominate his mind, often interfering with his concentration on other things. 

Mark paid a visit to Chubby one evening after school. As they sat on the front porch, watching the sun go down, he felt an urge to discuss his feeling about Laura with Chubby.

"Hey Chub."

"Yeah." Chubby mumbled as he polished off the last bite of a chocolate ice cream cone.

"You know my gal Laura?"

"Sure Chief, of course I know that foxy hunk."

"Thanks," Mark said, blushing.

"What about her?"

"Well, uh... you know the Silver Spur drive in?"

"Don't tell me." Chubby interrupted, "You got laid, right?"

Mark turned and gave him a surprised look. "How... how did you...?"

"It don't exactly take a Harvard grad to know what you was about to say.

Mark looked down, sort of embarrassed and said, "No, guess not."

"So, how was it?" Chubby asked, licking the last remnants of ice cream from his fingers.

"Better than chocolate ice cream." Mark said, then laughed.

"No way, my boy, no fuckin' way!" Chubby said back, also laughing.

"No, it was great, my head's still spinning from it."

"She yer first?" Chubby inquired. 

Mark hesitated, then said "Yeah." He didn't mind telling this to his best friend. Chubby wasn't a blabbermouth.

"Well, yer one up on me, bub."

"Oh," Mark said, "Well I had to talk about it with somebody before I went nuts, so who better than my best buddy?"

"We appreciate the kind words, Chief, but it you're lookin' for advice on the women, you be talkin' to the wrong cat."

"Sorry."

"No matter." Chubby assured him. "Maybe one of these days, some psycho bitch will see her way clear to touching my fat ass with a ten-foot pole, but so far the only place I've got my dick wet was in the shower." "Give it time Chub, it's early yet." Mark told him. 

"But not too early for another ice cream." Chubby said, standing up briskly, and heading for the kitchen. "Want one?" he asked Mark.

"No thanks."

"Suit yourself."

Mark sat on the porch, looking out into the dark Texas sky, thinking about the homework he should be home doing.

Helen Chambers, Chubby's mother, then came out onto the porch and greeted him.

"Hello Mark. How are you, dear?"

"Very well thank you, Mrs. Chambers."

"How's your father?"

"Keepin' busy." he said.

Helen Chambers was the local "Queen of Gossip" and as much as she wanted to ask Mark if he had heard from his mother, she thought better of it. Dawn Weston's desertion of her husband had been the talk of the town for months afterward. 

"That's what counts." Helen said, cheerfully.

"Yes ma'am." Mark said. 

Chubby came back out with a fresh chocolate cone, and sat down. Helen Chambers then said, "Best not eat too many of those, dear. They could make you fat." She went in, laughing quietly.

"You're a riot, mom." Chubby said, knowing she couldn't hear him.

Harry Chambers, Chubby's father, had died of a coronary two years ago, when Chubby had just started high school. Although he was sometimes verbally abusive to his son, Chubby loved his father, and often thought about him. After a few moments of silence, Chubby said,

"Ya know, Chief, my old man's been dead a couple years now, but the more I think about him, the more I miss the guy."

"Yeah, I'll bet." Mark replied, trying to think of a consoling remark for his friend.

"We used to do some fishin', I mean, you know, way back before his ticker started fuckin' up." 

"I remember." said Mark, then thought, "At least he wasn't a boozer." The fact that his father was, had cost him his mother.

 

 

 

_________________________

 

As he drove on, he thought of the tornado that could have sent him job hunting, or worse, and about how much his father used to worry about flooding during the rainy season. The Weston farm was only three miles from the Red River.

It was almost closing time at Otis Petty's. Mark walked into the office. He could see the reflection of the ceiling fam on Otis' bald head.

"Hey boss, I was thinkin' about stayin' over a while tonight and working on my truck. I'll close up for you if you'll give me your key. I'll give it back tomorrow, OK?" Mark asked him.

Otis looked at him for a moment, then said, "Well, hell, if I can't trust you by now, I never will." and gave him the front door key. 

Mark stayed until 8:00 P.M., he did an oil change, lube job, and greased the front wheel bearings. He then washed up, locked, and left. He was on his way to Cory's perhaps to have a serious talk with her. A few minutes up SR 19, something caught his eye off the road, way out in the woods. It was a fire. For the moment, he gave it no further thought. He just wanted to get to Cory's. It was close to eight thirty when he got there. The VW was gone. A feeling of disappointment and insecurity overwhelmed him. "Damn" he thought as he backed out and headed home. When he arrived, he was again greeted by an empty driveway.

"Shit!" he said to himself, then thought, "If there were ever two people who should be home at this hour, Jim Weston and Cory were them." He starting having thoughts he shouldn't have been having, then dismissed them. He headed back to Cory's. He would wait for her. About ten thirty he heard the VW's engine as she approached halfway up the driveway. The VW stopped briefly, then continued on to the house. Cory parked, then got out and walked over to the pickup. Her hair was messed up and she looked a little bit soiled. Mark pretended not to notice.

"Hi." she said.

"Hi, yourself."

"Guess you're wonderin' where your gal's been, huh?"

"You betcha." he said, staring at her.

"Don't look at me like that, honey."

"Like what?"

"Do me a favor, and take me for a drink and I'll tell you all about it, OK?" she suggested.

"What's open in the thriving metropolis of Davis, Texas at this hour?"

"The Hummingbird is open till midnight all week."

"Hop in." he said. 

She climbed in the pickup and pulled a brush from her purse. She slid next to Mark and used the rearview mirror to brush her hair. The ride to The Hummingbird was free of conversation.

 They went in, took a table, then Mark went to the bar and ordered two beers.

"I'll have to see your ID there, sonny." said the bartender. He was a short, fat, middle aged man with a beard. "Hers too."

Mark went back to the table and asked Cory for her driver’s license, and told her the reason. She threw the barkeep a kiss. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Mark showed him the two licenses. 

"Good 'nuff?" Mark asked him.

"Right on, sonny."

"My name's not "sonny", Pops."

"Whatever."

The three men at the corner table overheard the conversation and one of them laughed. Mark looked briefly at them, but ignored it. He took the two beers back to the table. 

The bartender, whose name was Wally Milton, was also the owner of the Hummingbird. He had just been given his liquor license back after having been relieved of it by the Texas Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. They suspended Wally's license for six months for selling a Scotch on the rocks to a seventeen-year-old. Wally grew tired of not being able to sell anything stronger than Kool-Aid, so by George, he was going to card everybody that didn't look at least fifty.

An old man sitting at the end of the bar said, 

"Hey Wally, I'm thirsty, wanna see my ID?" he said, then chuckled.

Wally brought him another Miller High Life.

"Wise Guy." he returned.

The old man then said, "Hey Wally, I'm horny!"

"Can't help you there, old-timer." Wally replied. 

Mark and Cory laughed quietly.

A gentleman then walked in and asked for the phone. He appeared to be from some country in the Middle East. Wally said nothing, and pointed to the phone. As the man approached the phone, one of the men at the corner table said to another,

"Looks like one of them camel jockeys, don't he?"

"Sure, as shit." said the other.

These were two of the smart punks in Davis, Jess and Rodney Pickett. Jeff continued taunting the stranger.

"I'll bet this cat's from Slobovia."

"Well, I guess that makes him a slob." Rodney then added. They both laughed wildly.

"Hey, Sah-heeb, got'cher ears on?! Why don't you lower the oil prices?" Jeff shouted. 

The stranger then turned to them and said,

"Please gentleman, I wish no trouble."

"Won't be no trouble if you haul ass." Rodney said.

Mark's table was only fifteen feet away, and he had heard every word of this nauseating scene. Without even looking up from his beer, he said,

"Why don't you let him be, chief, he's just usin' the phone." Something deep inside of Mark wished this punk would give him a ration of shit. His wish was about come true. 

"Why don't you make me, hotshot." Rodney said as he got up and walked toward Mark.

"Mark." Cory said anxiously.

Mark slammed his beer can down hard on the table, denting the bottom and spilling part of it out. 

"Can do butthole, can do!." he said as he got up to meet Rodney.

As they met, Rodney swung on Mark. He grabbed Rodney's fist and turned him around, pinning his arm behind him. He then shoved him away, planting his boot squarely in the crack of Rodney's ass. He lay sprawled on the floor. No sooner was that done, then Jeff came at Mark, saying,

"That's my brother, you motherfucker!" and had barely started to raise his fist when Mark flattened him. Jeff was out cold. Rodney was just getting up, and said to Mark,

"OK dude, you made your point."

Wally came around the bar with a glass of water and poured it on Jeff's face. 

"Very nice." Wally told Mark. 

Rodney helped Jeff up and out of the door. They left, after having made Mark Weston's acquaintance, the hard way. The other fellow at the table with the Pickett brothers also left. On his way out the door, he said, pointing outside, 

"That's my ride home. It beats walking."

"Not by much." Mark said to him as he sat back down with Cory.

"Lordy mercy honey, didn't we get mad?!" she said to Mark. "You know those two assholes come in the diner a couple times a month. They never leave a tip and all they do is bitch." she continued.

"Yeah, they look like the type." said Mark. "Why the hell did we come here anyway?"

"You wanted to know where I was tonight, and I was just gonna tell ya..."

"Never mind." he interrupted, "I was just worried when you weren't there, what with all these dead women they're findin' all over hell's half acre."

"Oh yeah, ain't it awful?" she said.

"I mean it's not as if you gotta justify your every move to me, but a whole bunch of nasty things when through my mind when I pulled up in your driveway and your car was gone."

"Thanks hon, you're a sweet thang." Cory said as she kissed his cheek.

"not half as sweet as you." Mark said back, and kissed her cheek. "I never wanna lose you."

"No reason ya should." she replied. He took her home.

 

 

 

 

 

(24)

?

The next morning when he was leaving for work, Mark walked through the dining room toward the back door. His father was at the table, having coffee.

"Not much of a breakfast, Pa." 

"I'm a few pounds over." Jim said.

"Oh." said Mark. He stood there, motionless.

"What else is on your mind, son?" Jim looked up and said.

"Oh, well... are you sick, Pa?"

"Not that I know of. Why?"

"I thought you might be takin' shots or somethin' cause I found that syringe in the rear of the kitchen drawer."

Jim took two more sips of coffee while Mark waited for an answer.

"That needle belonged to your Ma, she was a diabetic. Guess she never told you."

"No... Did you go somewhere last night, Pa?"

"What the hells with the questions?! What are you my fuckin' wet nurse?!"

"No Pa, just wonderin'"

"Well if you're hell bent on knowin', I was down in the Falls at Prairie Mary's, OK?!"

"Sure Pa. Well, see ya. I better go before I'm late."

"Yeah." Jim said.

Jim watched as Mark pulled out of the driveway, then got up and went to the kitchen and opened the drawer. He pulled out the syringe and said to himself,

"I gotta find a better place for this thing."

As Mark drove to work, he thought.

"If Ma was a diabetic, I'm Charles Manson."

Upon arriving at work, he parked his truck next to Otis' Chevy van.

He worked hard all morning, performing his usual duties. Just before lunch break, Otis walked into the garage and said,

"Hey Champ, you got my key?"

"Yeah." Mark said as he was raising a car on the lift. He then took the key off his ring and gave it to Otis.

"I got a mechanic quittin' me soon, you wanna fill his spot?" Otis asked.

"Hell yes!"

"You got it. It'll mean a raise for you too." 

"Sounds great!"

Otis was about to walk away when Mark said, "Hey Otis."

"Yeah."

"I was drivin' home up 19 last night, and there was a real good size fire burnin' about a mile back in the woods off west of the road, and it was no brush fire either. You know anybody else seein' such a thing out that way?"

"No, I can't say's I have, champ, but I can tell ya one thing. I've heard some damn spooky stories about all that open country between here and your place. It might not be a good idear for you to go investigati'n on somethin' like that. And I'll throw somethin' else just for your information, son. Things ain't quite the same around these parts as they were before you left fer Nam. I mean some folks around here and even up your way just ain't what they appear to be, I hope you'll heed what I'm sayin'."

He detected a mild threat in Otis' last sentence, but said,

"Sure boss, you think it's got anything to do with all them dead bodies that've been poppin' up?"

"I wouldn't know about that." Otis said quickly. "Why don't you change the oil on this one, then go git lunch."

"Yeah, why not." Mark said as he released the drain plug and watched the dirty oil flow out into the oil barrel.

He had lunch at a Burger King near Otis' shop. Before ordering, he went into the restroom. While he was in the latrine stall, two men walked in. All he could see of them was their cowboy boots. He could also hear their voices.

"I hear tell we're gonna do us another'n next week." one of them said.

"What night?" said the other.

"Prob'ly Wednesday."

"Good. Hail darkness!" the second man said, and walked out. 

Mark heard the flowing of the water in the lavatory, then the rustling of paper towels, then the first man left. He buried his face in his hands, and after hearing what Otis had said earlier, thought,

"Now why did I have to hear that?"

As he was leaving work, he turned on the radio to Wichita Falls' only rock station, KFAG. The song he heard was Bobby Vee's "Devil or Angel." As he listened to it, he starting thinking about Cory and the thing Chubby had said about her. "A rep" he thought.

He drove home through a heavy rain. It was November and a cold front was nearly upon north Texas.

 

(25)

?

Clarence Tolliver had been an interstate trucker for thirty-seven years, and every year that passed, he swore would be his last. He had been to New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle, and most everywhere in between, several times. Clarence was only sixty-five, but the rough life of a trucker had made him look like a prime candidate for a rest home.

He spent the first thirty-six years of his trucking career driving his own rig, but he could see the writing on the wall with the oil embargo soon to come. He sold his White Freightliner to the highest bidder in 1972. For the past year, he had driven for the Lone Star Grocery chain, hauling canned goods from San Antonio to Oklahoma City. The only problem with working for a company, Clarence thought, was that you had to leave when they said leave, be there when they said to be there, and take the route they said to take. He often thought, 

"Next thing ya know, they'll be tellin' me when to stop and take a shit." But the company paid for the fuel and maintained the truck, and that was what counted.

Oklahoma City was where Clarence called home. He had lived most of his life there, and had a ten-acre spread just out of town to the south. His wife of forty years took care of the place and handles most of the affairs with Clarence on the road most of the time.

November in san Antonio wasn't bad, he thought, as he waited for his truck to be loaded at the warehouse. The Lone Star Grocery chain was based here. When they finished, the forty-five-foot trailer was stacked from top to bottom and front to rear with every type of canned good known to mankind. Clarence told the dock foreman,

"Put another can of beans in there, and you couldn't shut the doors on the bastard!" 

"Have a nice trip." the foreman said.

Clarence was getting tired of taking the same old route to O.K. City. Not that there was a hell of a choice, however. It was U.S. 281 to Wichita Falls, and Interstate 44 into Oklahoma. He left San Antonio around six in the evening that Wednesday as he drove up 281. It started growing colder, as he rolled up the window, and hit the heater. One thing he was thankful for was that it was midweek and the traffic would be light. He had always thought the two-lane U.S. 281 was a "Pain in the ass."

He stopped at the Union 76 truck stop at the Interstate 20 Junction for dinner and tall stories with the other truckers. It was his usual stop. When he finished eating, he fired up the Mack diesel and headed north. It was 10:00 P.M.

 

(26)

?

Things went normally for the next six days. And now it was Wednesday.

Mark left for work with full intentions of doing what Otis said not to do, "investigate" the woods off SR 19 tonight, fire or no fire. It was only five thirty, so he thought he would go on home first and try to devise a plan of action. He went by Cory's and they ate and chatted for a while. When he got home, the Rambler wagon was in the driveway. He went in but Jim was not to be found. "Out in the fields" he thought. It was now six thirty and nearly dark. He cleaned up, then lay down on his bed and thought for a while. He then got up and prepared to head out. Just before he left his room, he walked back to his closet and opened the door. Leaning in the corner was his 30-30 rifle, ammo on the top shelf. He stared at the gun for a moment, then mumbled,

"What the hell" and grabbed the rifle and cartridges and his jacket. He left home about seven forty-five. It was cold. 

On his way down, he went by to check on Cory. As he pulled into her driveway, his heart nearly stopped. Her car was gone. He got out, walked up to the house, and knocked on the door. Of course, there was no answer. He tried the knob. It wasn't locked. "My God." he thought, starting to worry. He went in slowly, shutting the door behind him. The house was as silent as a tomb. "Cory?" he called. Nothing. "Damn" he mumbled. Then, as he started to leave, something under the sofa caught his eye. It looked like a book. He reached down and pulled it out. His face took on a more worried look than it had already had, but in addition to being worried, he was puzzled. The book's title was, "Satan, The Only True God." "Christ." he thought as he stared at the book. He put it back under the sofa, made a quick check of the house, and ran back out. As he was climbing in his truck, he mumbled, "I'll bet my next two paychecks Pa ain't home." But Mark would never get another paycheck. 

He backed out of Cory's driveway, spinning gravel and was home in no time. He could see from the road that his father's Rambler was gone.

"Shit!" he said, hitting the steering wheel with his fist. He spun around and headed for Matt's Diner. Matt's closed at nine, he still had half an hour. As he drove, he hoped and prayed Cory would be there. But she was not. 

He walked in the door. Bertha was the only waitress on duty.

Things were slow after eight on week nights. 

"Bertha, have you seen Cory?"

"No hon, I figured she'd be either at home or with you."

"Well she's not at home, and it's plain she's not with me." he said in a distressed tone.

"Why are you so upset, hon? Maybe she just went to the grocery or somethin'."

"No, I doubt it. Hey Bertha, how often have you seen Cory's parents in here?"

She looked at him with a question mark the size of Texas on her face. 

"Cory's folks've been dead fer better'n six years now. You mean she didn't tell you that?"

The stunned look on his face suggested he had just been slapped.

"No." he said, wide eyed, staring through Bertha instead of at her.

Bertha watched with concern as he regained his composure and raced out the door toward the telephone.

He called the Wichita Falls PD. It rang twice.

"Police Department, Maxton here." Paul Maxton was the other deputy who helped Bronson Ragwell drag Gus Gantry out of the Cyclone.

"Hello, my name is Mark Weston, I live up here in Davis..."

"You'll have to call the county..."

"No, I need to talk to Chief Pearson about something that might be goin' on down your way."

"Well you just missed him. He left, oh about (looking at his watch) four hours ago." Maxton said. 

"That's all I need right now, sarcasm," Mark thought then said, "Can you give me his home number? This might be nothing but it could be something very big."

"You know the answer to that one, son." said Maxton. "Why don't you just tell me about it and I'll..."

"How about Deputy Ragwell?" Mark asked.

"Nope. I'm fillin' for him at the desk because he just up and doesn't show for work. Didn' call or nothin' can you beat that with a stick?"

Chills went up and down Mark's spine as he heard this, then he said,

"Well could you call Chief Pearson for me and tell him to meet me out on SR 19 about seven miles north of Wichita Falls city limit? Just tell him Mark Weston needs him to come up there. Please, Mr. Maxton, it's important to me!" he pleaded.

"OK, son. I'll call him and tell him what you said, and never mind me when I get my ass chewed out for waking him up."

"Thanks!" Mark said, and quickly hung up. 

?

(27)

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The fire was about two miles off the highway, Mark estimated. He began to search up and down the road for a possible cut-off or dirt road that might lead to it. He couldn't remember anything off SR 19 wide enough for a car to travel on. Finding nothing, he began to think the road that led to the fire might branch off one of the county highways. But no, he finally saw it. It was a dirt road, a very narrow one. The entrance was obviously blocked with bushes and shrubbery. He shines his headlights on the blockade. Before he got out, he loaded the 30-30, and placed it on the hood while he moved what he could of the shrubbery out of the way. As he got back in the truck, he put the rifle on the seat beside him and thought,

"Damn, I hope this doesn't cost me any more than a paint job."

He was so anxious to drive up the dirt road, he didn't wait for Chief Pearson (if indeed he was coming). He began slowly up the road. The branches from the trees crowding the roadside immediately began to scratch the candy apple red paint. He grimaced as he listened to it. SCREEEEEK! About half way to the fire, which now looked much larger, the road widened. There was a fairly good moon tonight so he cut off his headlights as not to be seen. But he had already been spotted.

He slowly continued up the road. Five minutes later he had come to within one hundred yards of the fire. It was off to the right of the dirt road. Only woods separated the fire from his truck. He killed the engine. Mark kept only two things in his glove compartment, a flashlight, and his army bayonet. Just as he was reaching forward to open it, and ax crashed through the rear window. He quickly grabbed the bayonet, and jumped out of the pickup. As soon as both feet were on the ground, his attacker swung the ax again. He ducked. The ax shattered the driver side window. Before the man with the ax could rebound, Mark buried the bayonet in his stomach. The man let out a loud, whooping sound, staggered back, having dropped the ax, and fell on his back. He died holding on to the bayonet.

"Jesus Christ!" Mark gasped as he scrambled inside the pickup for the 30-30 and his flashlight, fearing another attack. He walked over to the dead man and shined the flashlight on him, the dead man's eyes were frozen wide open. It was Bronson Ragwell.

"My God, Ragwell!"

He took the keys from the pickup and closed the door. With the rifle in his left hand and the flashlight in his pocket, he started walking slowly through the woods, toward the fire. He listened carefully for anyone around him. When he got close enough to see what was going on, he thought his eyes were failing him. At least twenty people surrounded the fire. They were dressed in red, monk type robes. They were all on their knees, arms at their sides. The fire raged, it's flames shooting thirty feet high. He couldn't recognize anyone, dressed as they were. He decided that they couldn’t have walked out here. He took the long way around the bend about two hundred yards past where Mark's truck was parked. He followed it to the end and stopped. In a clearing, just beyond where he stood, he saw several vehicles that were all too familiar to him. There was a '65 Ford Mustang, a Plymouth Barracuda, a yellow Camaro, a Chevy van, and the one Mark was hoping he wouldn't see, the little blue VW. He walked a little further to the left, then saw the car he knew he would see. Behind the Chevy van was the Rambler station wagon. He could see that it's inside light was on. He circled to the rear of the Rambler. The driver's door was open. Jim Weston sat in it with his left foot on the ground. The radio was playing a country music song at low volume. Jim tapped his foot to the beat. Mark walked slowly up to the door. 

"Howdy, Pa." 

Jim looked quickly up at him, his eyes the size of pie plates. 

"What the hell!"

"Shh" Mark said, putting his forefinger to his lips. "Now you're going to tell me what the fuck you people are doing up here, aren't you? I could take a pretty good guess at it, but I want to hear it from you, so go ahead, you got the floor."

As Mark said this, Robert L. Pearson's patrol car, along with a Clay County backup unit turned onto the dirt road.

Jim Weston spilled his guts to Mark. All about the syringe and the young women he kidnapped and drugged, only to be used later as Satanic sacrifices. Also, about how he dumped the bodies later on. 

"I didn't kill none of 'em son. I jess went and got 'em. They killed 'em!" Jim said, bawling like a child.

"Who's the leader?" Mark asked him.

"I can't tell you son, they’ll..."

"Godamnit Pa, who's the leader?!" he shouted, but not too loud. 

"They'll kill me if I tell you!" Jim blurted, still bawling.

Mark began to feel a small measure of sympathy for his father. 

"OK Pa, just tell me one thing will ya? What in the hell were you supposed to get out of this, anyway?"

"They promised me if I helped 'em, they'd get my Dawn back. They said their master could bring my Dawn back to me!" Jim sobbed.

"Aw jeez, how could you buy that bullshit, Pa? Come on, we're goin' in and talk to the Sheriff."

"No son, I can't, they’ll..."

"Don't make me drag you, Pa."

Leaving the Rambler's door open and radio on, they started walking back to the pickup. As they approached it, Mark could see at least one other car. Proceeding cautiously, he then saw two police cruisers.

"Come on, Pa." They hurried the rest of the way.

"Chief Pearson." Mark said, just before they reached the pickup.

Pearson drew his gun from his belt. He was in civilian clothes. Recognizing Mark, he put the gun away. He looked at the rifle in Mark's hand, then, shining his flashlight on Bronson Ragwell, said,

"You wanna try explaining this?"

"He tried to nail me with an ax." 

Pearson looked over at the shattered windows in Mark's truck, then at the ax and back at Mark.

"Now why would Bronson want to go and do a thing like that?"

"Ask him." Mark said, pointing to his father.

Jim told of his part in the crimes to Pearson and the Clay County deputy. Robert L. Pearson then asked the deputy to take Jim on in. 

"Then maybe you should get back out here and bring the cavalry."

Pearson suggested.

"Will do." the deputy said.

He handcuffed Jim, searched him, read him his rights, then put him in the back seat of his car. Mark looked on sadly as they drove off. 

"I think we got work to do. That thing loaded?" Pearson asked Mark. 

"Does a hobby horse have a wooden dick?"

"Yeah." Robert L. said as he exhaled a deep breath.

As they walked through the woods toward the fire, Robert L. Pearson thought, "I'll show them county boys a little bit about law enforcement." 

They had come as close as they dare go. The heat of the fire made Mark want to take off his jacket, even a hundred feet away. "Holy Moley!" Robert L. said as he looked upon this macabre scene.

All the robed participants around the fire were now swaying back and forth, hands over their heads, chanting,

"LORD OF DARKNESS, GOD OF PAIN, UPON THE EARTH, YE SHALL REIGN!"

"What the... " Pearson said.

There was a table about six by two feet and two feet high between the Satan worshippers and the fire. A tall man stood beside the table with a knife stuck in his belt. It had a twelve-inch blade. As the chanting continued, they crouched down, out of sight.

"You got any questions about who killed all those women?" Mark asked.

"No, guess not." Pearson said, continuing to stare at the tall man. He had on a helmet type mask that looked like a human skull with horns. Just then, two of the cult members escorted in the next intended sacrifice victim. She was slim, of medium height, and had long dark hair. 

"Christ! She looks all drugged up to high heaven." Pearson said.

"And check out all the black and blue marks."

"I can't let 'em kill her." Robert L. said.

"Just say when." Mark told him.

The two cult members laid the nude women down on the table. She was far too groggy to know what was going on. As the man in the skull mask raised his hands, the chanting stopped. 

"Oh, Great Lord Satan, we realize this child we are about to give you is most unworthy of your almighty grace. And I know that I am but a servant to your unconquerable power!"

As Chief Pearson listened to the cult leader's speech, he said to Mark,

"I know I've heard that voice before, but where? I just can't quite place it.

Mark was also listening, and he could place it, but he didn't want to let himself believe it.

"We give you this infidel so that ye may grow STRONGER!!!" the tall man bellowed, as he raised the knife.

"NOW!" Pearson said, as he and Mark rushed into the clearing, guns raised.

"Just hold it right..." A shot rang out.

The late Robert L. Pearson lay sprawled on the ground, dead from a bullet through the neck.

Momentarily stunned in disbelief, Mark stared down at the dead policeman. Before he snapped out of it, two of the larger cult members took him by both arms from behind, forcing him to drop his rifle. A man with a varmint rifle was standing at the edge of the woods. It was Jimmy Castile. Satan worshipper. The cult leader put the knife back in the belt of his robe and approached Mark. He then removed the mask. Mark closed his eyes tightly as he saw Otis Petty.

"Jess couldn't let it alone, could ya champ? You jess had to go and fuck with it!!" Otis said as he backhanded Mark across the face.

After recoiling from it, Mark said.

"Does this mean I don't get the raise?"

"Where yer goin' you won't need it."

"I'll bet your boss gives you a hot blow job."

"That's about what I'd expect to hear from a NON-BELIEVER!!"

Just then, Cory unveiled the hood of her robe and ran over toward Mark, crying violently, nearly screaming.

"Why did you have to come here honey, WHHHHHY!?"

"Why did you have to come out here?" he replied, just staring at her.

"They promised me their Lord would bring my folks back! I had to come!"

"Back from Houston, or the grave?" he asked.

"NOOOOO!!" she screamed, looking skyward.

Then Floy Mason unveiled herself, and said to Mark,

"He's gonna give my Laura back to me, it was you that took her."

"Mrs. Mason, I..."

His attention then went to his right as 5 foot 7 inch, 260 pound Chubby Chambers, Satan Worshipper, approached him.

"Hi ya, fat boy. What did they promise you, a fast car?" Mark asked.

"No!" Chubby shouted. We sacrifice, so that we may be SPARED!!"

"Aw spare me." said Mark.

"Oh, Mark." Cory sobbed.

"Git your fuckin' ass back over there, you wimpy bitch!!" Otis commanded Cory.

"It's now or never." Mark thought. In one violent twist, he freed himself from the grip of the two big men. He then kneed one of them in the balls. The man crumpled in pain. The other man tried to pick up the 30-30, and got a boot between the eyes for his troubles. He was out cold. A bullet grazed Mark's left shoulder as he bent to get his rifle. He dove behind a large rock, aimed, and fired. The projectile nearly decapitated Jimmy Castile. The other cult members were scattering into the woods. Marty Prose grabbed Cory from behind, throwing her over his shoulder, and headed for the parking area.

"MAAAAARRRRRKK!!" she screamed, as he carried her away.

Then Otis came at Mark with the same knife that had killed twelve women.

"THE FATHER SHALL DEFEAT YOUUUUUUUU!!" Otis cried out.

Mark jacked another shell into the 30-30 and fired. The bullet exploded Otis Petty's heart, exiting his back and spewing blood all over the girl on the sacrificial table.

"I hereby sacrifice you, motherfucker." Mark mumbled as he looked down at Otis' dead body. Otis had gotten his "Just de-serts."

Mark then ran back toward the parking area. Then, he changed his mind. He ran back to his truck to try to head off Marty Prose. Just as he arrived where the pickup was parked, the Camaro blew by him.

"MAAAAAARRRRRRK!" Cory screamed.

 

_________________________

 

When Clarence Tolliver reached Wichita Falls a little before midnight, he took 287 to the I-44 interchange. As he arrived, he could see that the exit was blocked by two police cars working a minor accident. He continued on down 287. He then saw a sign that said, "Texas SR 19 Davis. Exit 1 Mile."

"I think this son of a bitch crosses the river, if memory serves." he thought. He got on 19 north, and drove. A few minutes later, a long string of police cars passed the rig, and sped up the next hill, lights flashing.

"Hot damn!" Where's the party?" he shouted.

Mark hopped in the pickup, threw the 30-30 on the seat, cranked up, threw it in reverse, and floored it. The Ford spun around until it faced the highway. He went after Marty. He topped ninety going down the dirt road. When he reached the narrow part, he slowed down to seventy. The protruding trees and branches began to annihilate the red paint, as they tore the mirrors off. When he reached the highway, the pickup did nearly a 360 degree spin out across it. All of the 450 horsepower under the hood was about to be put to use. He slammed the Hurst into first, and stuck his foot in the carburetor. The tires screamed as the 428 roared. Prose had nearly a half mile lead on him, but he was hell-bent on catching him. He pushed the pickup past red-line speed. he was doing 130 MPH. His injured shoulder oozed blood, but he ignored the pain. He was now at the start of the only straightaway on SR 19 between Davis and Wichita Falls. The Camaro was at the far end of it about to pass a slower moving car. Just as Marty zipped around it, he, Cory and the Camaro climbed the next hill. At that moment, the convoy of police cruisers crested the hill, heading north, toward the dirt road cut off. There were twenty-one of them, seventeen Clay County units, and four Texas Highway Patrol cars. The Camaro was now over the hill. As the last police car went by, Mark began to pass the slow car Marty had just gone around. He was nearly at the hilltop. As he reached hillcrest, the fully loaded eighteen-wheel semi-truck was there. It was the last thing he ever saw. In a tremendous, spectacularly brilliant crimson fireball, Mark Weston and his prized Ford pickup truck ceased to exist.

 

 

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The semi-truck suffered minimal damage. Clarence Tolliver was not injured, but the collision was something he would never forget. He retired from trucking the following month. The woman in the slower car rushed to Wichita Falls to report the crash, but now, even most of the local police department was out chasing the cult members. The fire, two miles off SR 19, dwindled under the Texas half-moon.

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Epilogue

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The Clay County Sheriff's Department and the Texas Highway Patrol, along with K-9 units and two helicopters, captured most of the cult members by dusk the next day. The ones who managed to escape, did not stay free long. Brutal police interrogations forced captured cult members to disclose the whereabouts of the remaining few.

The intended sacrifice victim in the final ritual recovered fully, at least physically. She would have nightmares of her confinement, along with being emotionally unstable for the rest of her life.

Marty Prose was arrested in a wayside park south of Wichita Falls on U.S. 287 by the Highway Patrol. He resisted arrest violently by knocking one of the troopers down. The other trooper then broke Marty's left arm and three of his ribs with his Billy club. Marty, along with Chubby Chambers were given ten year sentences for being accessories in the illegal confinement of another human being. Chubby was forced to be a sex slave during his time in prison. 

Cory Cooper escaped Marty Prose at a traffic light in Wichita Falls. She ran to the police station and turned herself in to Deputy Maxton. Cory was tried and found guilty for her part in the Satanic rituals, but was given a suspended sentence on the basis of her troubled past. The fates of the remaining cult members varied with the degree of their participation. 

After their capture, each of the twelve sacrificial victims were held alone in a miniature jail house in a remote area off SR 79. This tomb, built by none other than Jim Weston, was simply a dark, one room, horror hole, made of cement blocks. Each victim was held there for an average of five days before they were "sacrificed." Every day, Jim, either by himself, or accompanied by another cult member, would come and tell the girl how much longer she had to live. If the woman cried or showed fear, she was beaten senseless. The location was always guarded by cult members. Each victim was transported to the location of the sacrifice, wherever it was to be, in Otis Petty's Chevy van. None of the victims were sexually molested because it was believed by the cult that the subject had to be "clean in spirit."

Jim Weston was convicted of felonies ranging from aggravated assault to conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to fifty years in the Texas State Penitentiary. The judge said he could not be paroled for at least twenty-five years. That, however, turned out to be immaterial. Jim was murdered by another inmate in 1981, for stealing a book from the inmate's cell. The book's title was "101 Ways to Beat the Devil."

The life of mark Weston was not a long one in terms of time. He died at the age of twenty-five. But a fruitful one if two aspects of it are considered. First, but not foremost, his service to his country in Vietnam, a place he did not ask to go, but did so when ordered to. However, his biggest accomplishment, by far, was being the man mainly responsible for ending a string of kidnappings and murders that may well have gone on for years, had he not simply investigated a fire in the woods. But Mark had lost everything: his job, his parents, his girlfriend, his prized pickup truck, his best friend, and his LIFE.

The news of the solved murders and the vanquished Satanic Cult soon broke nationwide. Dawn Weston Harper was working as a waitress in a Knoxville, Tennessee restaurant when she learned of her son's death. She cried. 

 

 

THE END


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