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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Novels
- Published: 12/05/2018
When I Was A KidBorn 1955, M, from Norwich NY, United States
WHEN I WAS A KID
By Herm Sherwood-Sitts
When I was a kid in seventh grade our teacher, Miss Jones, assigned an English project on journalism. We were supposed to interview our family, about what life was like when they were kids. This assignment had to be five pages long. That was going to be hard, because it was just Mom, my faithful dog Max, and me.
"Hey Mom, I need to interview you for an English assignment,"
I said while letting the screen door slam.
"Benny, how many times do I have to tell ya? Don't let the screen door slam," she whined.
"Ok Mom, what's your name?" I asked, plopping down at the kitchen table without thinking. I was waiting to write it down in my notebook, but no answer came back. I glanced at her and she was looking over her glasses, not impressed. "Oh yeah, Molly Black," I said out loud and started to scribble her name.
"When I was a kid, my name was not Molly Black; it was Molly Henderson," she said in a child- like voice.
"Well, ya could have told me that before I wrote in my notebook," I said while ripping out a page.
"Benny, use a pencil to do your rough draft I can't afford to buy a lot of paper," she said. As she walked to the fridge she ran her hand across my back. (Ya know, the way moms do just because they love ya.) She opened the fridge and poured me a glass of milk, reached for the cookie jar and sat it in front of me.
"When were ya born?" I asked with my mouth full of cookie.
"Benny, don't talk with your mouth full," she scolded. ..." I am thirty years old, so when was I born?"
"Maaaaaaaa ... this is for English not math, just give me the answer and quit making it so hard," I whined.
"Just figure it out Benny," she said not giving an inch.
I did the math on the Formica table with my pencil and erased it before she could see it. "Ok you were born in 1931. Where were ya born?" I asked.
"I was born somewhere on Route 37, between Hammer Mill and Burrow Springs, NJ," she said while getting ready for work.
"Mom, is this another trick answer, cause this is getting pretty irritating?"
No, Honey, my mom was on a bus headed for Burrow Springs to the hospital and they had to stop the bus. The driver and an old lady delivered me in the back seat. It's true," she giggled.
"Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?" I asked talking into my pencil like a microphone; then sticking it toward her mouth, like Ed Sullivan doing his variety show. We don't have a TV set, but I saw the Ed Sullivan show once at Mrs. Tomas' house.
"I grew up In the Town of Hammer Mill and went to school at Hammer Mill Junior-Senior High," she said while putting on some makeup. There was a long pause in between because I can't write too fast.
"What did you do for fun as a kid?" I asked in my best Ed Sullivan voice.
"Well, let's see ... washed cloths, did the dishes...um... cleaned my room, just about the same fun stuff I do now," she sighed taking one last look in the mirror. I didn't say anything so she turned around to look at me. I sat at the kitchen table with my hands on my hips, giving her the brow.
"Mom, just answer the questions like yer sposed to! Did you play ball? Did you ride bike? Did you have a boyfriend?" That one must have struck a nerve!
She turned and looked at me seriously and said," I have to get to the diner. I expect you to be there at five for supper. After that be back here so Mrs. Tomas can watch you until I get home at two." She put her sweater over the shoulders of her uniform. Then she gave me a kiss on the forehead and left for work.
I only had about a half a page on my report and scratched my head. Next I went out on the porch steps and interviewed my pal Max. "Max what is your full name?" He tipped his head at me as if to say, "Who Me?" I wrote down Maxwell J Black.
“Next question… Where were you born?" He didn't answer the question much better than Mom. I wrote down Blue River Pound.
"Where did ya go to school?” I wrote down House-Broke High.
"What did you do for fun as a pup? Chase cats, chase cars, dig holes, lick my (better cross that one out). Well Max that put us up to about three quarters of a page. What are we going to do about that?”
About 4:45 I hopped on Ole Silver (that's my bike) and headed towards the diner. Max was following close behind when we came to Cross Cut Alley. I made the corner hanging on to my spiral notebook and the handlebars at the same time, and headed down the dark alley. Out a nowhere jumped out Big Billy, the meanest ninth grader who ever lived.
I stood up on the pedals and peddled as fast as I could. As I swerved to go around him my pant leg got caught up in the sprocket. Ole Silver came to a screeching halt and I fell over. I lost my notebook and scrambled to get up with my pant leg still caught up in the sprocket of the bike. Big Billy came over and pushed me down knocking my glasses off. "What'a ya doing in my alley Sissy Boy?" He said all puffed up.
"None of yer business Fat-So!" I said not knowing enough to shut up.
He grabbed me by the shirt and picked me up with the bike still attached and was getting ready to pulverize me. About that time Max came out from behind the garbage can, snarling and growling. He latched on to Big Billy's butt. Billy then went screaming and crying in the other direction, with Max hot on his tail. I finally got my leg out of the Bear Trap (sprocket), gathered my glasses and notebook up and headed for the diner.
Of course I was late and mom was worried sick. My supper was in the normal booth and was a little cold. The place was noisy and the cigarette and cigar smoke was abundant. Mom asked where I’d been, then gave me the third degree about using Cross Cut Alley.
I sat there eating my burger and fries, while watching Mom wait on people at the other booths. At the third booth down from me sat Mr. Brennon (Big Billy's dad) and a few of his banker friends. They were making a lot of racket, joking and talking. Mom reached across the table to hand a platter of spaghetti to one of Mr. Brennon's associates. I saw Mr. Brennon slide his hand up the back of Mom's leg under her uniform. Mom took the platter of spaghetti and shoved it in Mr. Brennon's face and started to walk away. Mr. Brennon grabbed Mom by the arm as the other guys laughed and joked. "Don't forget what happened the last time you did something like this bitch!" Brennon said in a loud whisper. Spaghetti was all over his banker suit and hanging from his eyebrows and chin. You could tell he was furious. About that time Smitty (the cook and owner of the diner) came over to the booth.
"Let her go Brennon," scolded Smitty. Smitty was about 6'6" and built like a tank. He was an ex-Marine and he took crap from no one. "I want you guys to leave NOW!"
Mom went to the kitchen and the men at booth got up and left the diner. I watched as they went down the steps. Brennon almost tripped over Ole Silver because I had left it in the middle of the sidewalk. Next to my bike lying on the lawn was Max, chewing on the pocket that he had tore off of Big Billy's pants. I snickered to myself, “they both had a bad day.”
Mom came out of the kitchen to give me a hug and a kiss good-bye. You could tell by her eyes that she had been crying. "Be a good boy for Mrs. Tomas," she said trying not to show the tears.
"Yup I will Mom," and I gave her a big hug and headed for the door.
When I got outside Smitty handed me a bag with a bone in it for Max. I thanked him as he held my bike so I could get on. I looked at the window of the diner and waived bye to Mom. Kind’ a had my hands full with my notebook, the bag and the bike. As I wobbled home on Ole Silver I chuckled to myself. Yesterday at school I had found an Indian head nickel. I had just left it under my plate at the diner, as a tip for Mom. I'll bet it made her smile.
When I reached the house, Mrs. Tomas was sitting on our porch knitting a sweater that she had been working on forever. "Hi Mrs. Tomas," I said dumping my bike on the steps. I opened the bag and made Max sing for his supper and then handed him his bone. He wagged his tale and crawled under the porch to enjoy it by himself. I walked over to Mrs. Tomas. She sat her knitting on her lap and gave me my big welcome hug that she gives me every day.
"How's my little man today?" she asked.
"Well... other than going to school, getting too much homework and almost getting pulverized by Big Billy; I'm in pretty good shape," I said making her chuckle.
"What do you have for homework?" she asked while she started knitting again. I told her about our journalism assignment. "Well ... young man I was born in 1893. How old does that make me?
"Older than dirt," I said giggling.
She put her hands on her hips and said with a smile, “No ice cream for you tonight Mr. Smarty Pants." She then told me her life history, which was pretty boring. She had one toy, a cornhusk doll, no neighbors and two brothers that tormented her. One crowned her queen once with a burdock crown and her mom had to cut her hair to get it out. (I thought that was pretty funny.) She only went to school until the eighth grade. Lucky her, that was as far as her teacher could teach. She got married when she was fifteen and worked in the old Hammer Mill, until it closed in 1942. She and her belated husband Earl had three sons, which are now grown up and moved away. That finished the first page of my journalism report. Good thing we have two weeks to get it done.
The next morning, I crawled out’ a bed and got ready for school. I ate a bowl of Corn Flakes, grabbed my knapsack and went in Mom's room to give her a kiss good-bye. She hugged me a little extra long and told me to stay out ‘a Cross Cut Alley.
"Ok Mom," I said giving her one last snuggle. About that time we heard a whine.
"Somebody says yer gonna be late if you don't get going," Mom said.
I lay there for a few seconds and Max gave me a little yip.
"Ok I'm coming, ya aint gotta’’ be so bossy...See ya Mom," and I headed for the door. I mounted Ole Silver and we headed for school. When we got to Cross Cut Alley, Max started to go in. I gave him a whistle and he resumed following me toward Pine Ave. When we got to school, I put my bike in the bike rack; while Max went over and got his ears scratched by all the girls. Max is a handsome Golden Retriever, (a real chick magnet). I don't know what he does all day while I'm in school, but he's always there when I get out. It was just about time for the school bell to ring, when I saw Big Billy bullying my friend Mike. Big Billy started shoving him around and knocked Mike's books out of his hands. He then started kicking the books and homework papers all over. I walked over and told Big Billy, “Knock it off!"
"Well, well, well, if it ain't Sissy Boy. Just whata’ ya gonna do about it?" Big Billy boasted.
I whistled and Max came a running. Big Billy took off for the door of the school and everybody laughed. I scratched Max's ears and gave him a few pats on his side. The bell rang, "See ya later boy, I gotta’ go."
I told Miss Jones that I'd have to interview some extra people, because my family wasn't that big. She said that would be fine, as long as I had five pages.
The school day seemed to drag on. I would rather be out riding Ole Silver and playing with Max. When the bell finally rang at the end of the day, I ran outside. Max met me wagging his tail. When I jumped on Ole Silver, both tires were flat. Somebody had stuck a tack in both of them. I started for home, pushing my bike with two flat tires. Thinking that Mom couldn't afford to fix it, made a couple tears run down my cheeks. As Max and I walked by JB's service station, the owner was waxing his hot rod; between pumping gas for customers. He noticed the tears on my cheeks.
"Hey Sonny what's the matter?" he asked, while wiping the dried wax off of the car. I just put my head down and kept walking. He made a loud whistle; Max and I stopped and gave him a glance." Come here a minute boy and tell me what's bothering ya," he said standing up and wiping his hands with the rag. I turned and walked over to him. He bent down and greeted max petting his head. Max was good at judging people and he seemed to know this guy.
"He likes ya," I told him.
"Well he ought to; he comes here five days a week and sleeps next to the counter, until you get out of school. Got so used to him coming, that he has a dog bed and food in there," he said pointing to the station.
"So that's what he does all day," I chuckled.
About that time a car pulled in for gas. The lady asked for three dollars worth. I watched as he cranked the handle to reset the numbers on the pump. Next he twisted the chrome handle to the right and pumped until three dollars came up in the top window of the pump. "So what is the 13 and ...that 5 over 8 thing for?" I asked wrinkling up my nose.
"That's how many gallons that three dollars will buy at twenty two cents a gallon," he explained. He then washed her windshield and opened the hood and checked her oil. "You’re all set Ma'am," he said while taking the three dollars and giving her some S&H green stamps. The lady thanked him and she was on her way.
"Well back to you ... what's going on little buddy?" he asked, while unrolling the sleeve of his T-shirt to get a cigarette. His hair was slicked back like the way Elvis wore his. The cuffs of his jeans covered the top of his engineer boots.
"Somebody stuck some tacks in my tires at school today," I said, kicking the ground with the toe of my sneaker.
"Well that wasn't very nice he said," squatting down to take a look at the tires. “Do ya know who did it?"
"Well I got an idea that Big Billy did it, but I can't prove it," I said in a sad voice.
"Ya mean Billy Brennon?" He asked while taking a drag off his cigarette.
"Yes sir that's the guy," I said hanging my head.
"Yeah the Brennon's seem to get away with everything in this town," he kinda’ mumbled with his cigarette hanging from his mouth.
"Bring her in here and we'll see if we can fix it," he said.
"That would be really kind of ya Mister, but I don't have any money," I explained.
"Well… maybe we can work something out Ben," he said.
"How do ya know my name?" I asked.
"I've been in Smitty's Diner, when you were there with your mom. Smitty is a good friend of mine. By the way you can call me JB," and he reached out his hand for a shake. "How about we fix your bike and maybe you could do some work around here for me? That is… if it's alright with your mom."
"Sounds like a deal JB," I said shaking his hand. He turned the bike upside down and taught me how to take the rims off, with a couple wrenches. Then carefully he took two flat head screwdrivers and removed the front tire from the rim. A car pulled in for some gas, so I washed the windshield while JB pumped the gas and checked the oil. The man gave me a nickel tip and JB the money for the gas.
"See we make a good team kid," he said pulling my baseball hat down over my eyes, as we headed back to the garage to finish the bike. "You better call your mom and let her know where ya are."
"We don't have a phone, Mom says we can't afford it," I told him.
"Then ya better get on home so she isn't worrying about ya. How about, you ask her, if you could work weekdays, from 3:30 till 5:00. You can ride your bike to and from the station, that way Billy Brennon can't mess with it," said JB.
"Sounds like a deal JB," I said reaching my hand out for a shake. About that time, Max wandered over and sat next to JB and raised his paw for a shake too. We both laughed.
Max and I walked home, just in time to catch Mom going to work. She wasn't too happy with us for being late. I told her about what had happened and about JB offering me a job. I asked her if I could work for him.
She said "NO and I don't have time to argue with you about this now. I want you to get cleaned up and I will see you at the diner in 30 minutes."
"But Mom," I begged.
"Not now Benny, just do what I said!" she scolded walking away.
When max and I arrived at the diner, the place wasn't too busy. Max laid down in his usual spot, next to the steps. I entered and sat at my usual booth. Smitty was at the counter reading the paper. He glanced over at me and gave me a wink, and I returned a wave. After a few minutes, he came over and sat with me at the booth. "I hear JB offered you a job," he said, still looking at the paper.
"Yeah, but Mom won't let me take it," I replied.
"Don't bug her about it for the rest of tonight and I'll talk to her," said Smitty. I gave him a smile and he returned to the counter. Mom brought out my supper and sat with me a bit, until she had a customer. When I was done eating; I left her the nickel that I made at JB's under the edge of my plate. I waited by the kitchen door to say good-bye to her. She gave me a kiss, Smitty gave me some scraps for Max and I left. When I got outside, there sat Ole Silver on her kickstand, with both tires fixed. JB must have seen Max there and figured I would be out soon. I smiled and looked around for JB, but he was gone. I hopped on my bike and whistled to Max and headed for home.
I was just coasting along by Vinnie’s Pub, when an old man stumbled out the door and fell in a heap on the sidewalk in front of me. I jumped off my bike and ran to see if he was all right. He had a bad cut on his forehead and I couldn't get him to respond. My heart was pounding; for fear that he was dead. I ran into the Pub yelling, "Help! There's a man out here that looks like he's dying!" The Bar Keep dried his hands on a towel, lifted the gate to the bar and hustled out with me. Several other patrons also followed. When we got to him he was sitting up and Max was licking his face. The Bar Keep and another guy helped the old man to his feet and walked him back inside. I followed them in and watched as they sat him down at the table.
"Are ya ok Mr. Foster?" asked the Bar Keep.
"Yeah I must have had a little too much whiskey," the old man said, holding his handkerchief over the cut on his head. Everyone raised their mug, laughed and cheered. About that time, Max put his head on Mr. Fosters lap.
"Max, you aren't supposed to be in here," I said in a whisper, trying to coax him out.
The Bar Keep says, "What do ya mean son? He comes in here every day, for lunch with JB. He's a regular here. Everyone raised their mug to Max and gave him a cheer. Max tipped his head back and gave them a bark, like it was a ritual they did every day. Mr. Foster thanked Max and me and we went on our way.
When we arrived home, Mrs. Tomas was on the porch knitting that sweater again. "I thought I was going to have to go looking for you sweetie. Where on earth have ya been?" she asked, while giving me a big hug. I told her about what had happened at the Pub. She gave me another hug and said I was her little hero.
The next morning I ate breakfast, grabbed my backpack and went in Mom's room to give her a kiss good-bye. She gave me a little snuggle and told me, that if I was going to work at JB's after school; there were going to be some rules. “Homework was to be done and my grades were to be in the 80's. I was to wash up at the station and be to the diner by 5:30."
"Whoo-Hoo!" I yelled. About that time, Max put his paws up on the bed and barked with his tail wagging wildly.
"OK… that's enough racket, get yer butt T' school," Mom said with a smile. I gave her a big hug and headed for the door. I stopped, turned to her and said, “tell Smitty I owe him one," while giving her the thumbs up. She gave me a funny look and I took off before she could interrogate me.
When we got to JB's he was pouring himself a cup of coffee. "Hey kid," he said with a smile.
"Hi JB, thanks for fixing my bike," I said, while parking it next to his workbench. "Mom says I can take the job. So I'll see ya after school."
"Yeah, good deal, Smitty told me this morning, while I was eating breakfast," JB said, while pouring Max a bowl of dog food. Max gobbled up a few bites and JB gave him a pat.
"Well I'd better get to school, see ya later JB," I said, as Max and I headed out. When we got to school, Max went to see the girls and I looked for Mike to tell him about my new job. A few minutes later the bell rang and Max ran over to me to say good-bye. I bent down so he could lick my face and I told him to have a great day. When I got to the door of the school, I glanced back and saw Max trotting down the street towards JB's. I chuckled to myself, “that dog’s got it made.”
It was another long day at school. The deadline was getting closer for the journalism assignment. English was my hardest subject and I was going to have to apply a little more effort, in order to keep my job. When the final bell rang, Max was sitting by the bike rack waiting for me; even though my bike wasn't there. We spent a few minutes greeting each other and started for JB's.
When we got to the gas station, JB gave me a wave while he was servicing a customer. The car pulled out and we chatted for a few minutes. My first job was to sweep out the service bays. The dust made Max sneeze, so he went in the office to lay by the counter. At that time, the customer bell rang about fifteen times. This was a hose, which laid across the drive between the pumps. When a car runs over it, the air pressure in the hose rings a bell. I tried jumping on it before to ring the bell and couldn't do it. However, Big Billy was heavy enough to make it ring easily. The noise was irritating Max and he chased Big Billy down the street. JB put his thumb and pointer finger into his mouth and let out a loud whistle. Max came back wagging his tail. We looked at each other and laughed.
Max and I arrived at the diner on time. When Mom came out to bring my supper, she stopped and cocked her head with a puzzled look on her face.
"What's the matter Mom?" I asked in a smirky voice.
"I didn't know Elvis was coming to supper tonight," she said with my plate in one hand and the other hand on her chin. She sat my food in front of me on the table. She then took my glasses off of my face and cleaned the dust from the garage floor off with her apron. While washing up at the service station, I noticed a tube of Brillcream that JB had left in the Men's room. I slicked my hair back like JB's, before coming to the diner. I rolled the sleeves of my T-shirt up a little to show off my muscles. "Ya start smoking cigarettes and yer grounded," she said, walking back to the counter. Smitty walked by staring at me, making funny faces on purpose and walked right into the door of the kitchen. I busted up laughing and everyone in the diner looked our way. Smitty stumbled around a little and disappeared into the kitchen. I couldn't stop laughing.
When I was finished with my supper, I could hear Hank playing on the radio in the kitchen. I looked through the small window of the swinging doors, that led to the kitchen’ trying to see if Mom was out there. I saw Mom sitting on the counter with Smitty standing in front of her. She had her arms around him and he was kissing her neck. When I opened the door, Smitty quickly moved to the sink, like he was doing dishes and Mom jumped off of the counter. She came over and gave me a kiss and told me to be a good boy for Mrs. Tomas. As I turned to walk to the door, Smitty called out, "Benny." When I glanced back, he had a bag of scraps for Max. As he handed them to me our eyes met. I jokingly made my lips make a double smooch sound and gave him the thumbs up. He blushed and walked away. Mom put her hand over her mouth and turned away to cover up an outburst of laughter. I giggled and walked out.
When I got outside, Max was sleeping next to the steps. I looked around for Ole Silver, but it was nowhere to be found. I was furious and paced back and forth. I knew I left my bike leaning against the hedge. "It's gotta’ be Big Billy," I said out loud, swinging my fist like I wanted to knock him out. “C'mon Max”… and we started for Big Billy's house. He lived on the North end of Hammer Mill, up on a hill. It was a huge house, with big wrought iron gates and a beautiful lawn. It was almost dark when Max and I arrived at the Brennon Mansion. We were halfway up the long curvy driveway, when we saw headlights flash across the lawn. Max and I hid in the bushes, as the big black Cadillac past by. The radio was blasting and the driver was all over the place. It finally came to rest, in front of a three-car garage. First the engine and the radio shut off, then after a bit, the lights went out. I could see Ole Man Brennon get out of the car, with a bottle in one hand and trying to keep his balance hanging onto the car with the other. As he staggered to the front door, he yelled "Billy… get yer sorry ass out here and help me." He worked his way up the steps, taking a couple steps forward and one back. I could see my bike, dumped by the sidewalk near the front door. After Ole Man Brennon got inside, Max and I snuck up to get my bike. There was a lot of yelling coming from the house. The front door was left open about six inches and in the dim light of the entry; you could see Big Billy being yelled at by his father. Ole Man Brennon then smashed the bottle on the floor, picked Big Billy up by the throat and slammed him against the wall. He was screaming profanities in Billy's face, followed by the sound of some loud smacks. You could hear Billy crying. Max started a low growl; I grabbed him by the collar in one hand and my bike in the other and headed down the driveway. I really felt bad for Big Billy.
When we reached the center of town, a blue 55 Chevy pulled up next to us. It was Mrs. Tomas. "Young man I've been looking all over for you!" she said, in a scared tone of voice.
"Sorry Ma'am," I said hanging my head. She got out and helped me put my bike in the trunk of her car. Next, she held her seat forward, so Max could get in the back. As we headed home, while she was grinding the gears, I told her what had happened. I asked her please, not to tell Mom. She agreed that it would be our secret, as long as I didn't ever do it again.
The next morning on my way to school, Max and I stopped at Sam's Grocery, at the corner of Cross Cut Alley. JB had paid me the night before and the buck fifty was burning a hole in my pocket. I asked Sam for a couple of black licorice sticks and a pack of gum. He reached for the shelf behind him and selected the items. "That will be seven cents Benny," Sam said politely. As I reached in my pocket for the change, Sam went over to the deli counter. Max followed him and sat in front of the counter. "What will it be today Max, bologna or ham? Max gave him two short barks. "Then ham it is my friend," and he proceeded to cut Max a slice. Max sat up his hind legs and begged, which I didn't know he could do. Sam then tossed Max the slice of ham and told him "Good boy." I stood there in awe.
"What a Mooch you are Max!" I said shaking my head, as I gave Sam the seven cents. When we started for the door, I said "Thank you," to Sam.
"Have a nice day boys," Sam replied.
When I got on my bike, I looked down Cross Cut Alley. I could see the silhouette of Big Billy at the other end and watched as he disappeared onto Main Street. Max and I took to the alley and proceeded up Main Street. I coasted up next to Big Billy and offered him a licorice stick. When he looked at me, he had a black eye and a split lip. He took the licorice stick and Max and I coasted on to JB's. We had our morning chat and then we headed for school.
At school, Miss Jones reminded us that our journalism report was due in one week. From the sounds of the rest of the class, I wasn't the only one who didn't have it done.
After school Max met me and we headed to work. I was helping JB inventory the cans of oil, when the big black 58 Cadillac pulled up to the pump for gas. (Yeah, you guessed it.) It was Old Man Brennon and Billy was sitting on the passenger side.
"Check out where the gas cap is on this car, in case you ever have to do this yourself," said JB, while lifting up the driver's side taillight.
"Cool," I replied and watched as he inserted the nozzle. JB then nodded for me to wash the windshield. I did Billy's side first. "Hi Billy," I said, while on my tiptoes trying to reach across the huge wraparound windshield.
"Hey Benny," he said back with a smile.
When I did the other side, Old Man Brennon started complaining about the service. Billy said, "Leave him alone Dad he's my friend." Ole Man Brennon then grabbed Billy by the shirt and told him to "Shut up!"
"You might want to think about the offer I gave you on this place," said Brennon to JB, as he thumbed through a wad of bills.
"I told you, it isn't for sale," JB said while making change. The Cadillac then pulled out, squealed its tires just a little and vanished down the street. I then told JB about what had happened the night before. "No wonder Billy's such a bully," JB said. "He's gotta’ let that anger out someplace."
I got cleaned up to go to the diner and went to tell JB good-bye. He handed me a paper and asked me to have Mom sign it, if it was ok. It was a permission slip, for me to play baseball on JB's Little League team. Practice was to start next Tuesday, from five o'clock to six o'clock. I gave him a big grin and used that "Cool," expression again.
"Have a good weekend Benny," JB said while giving Max some lovin.
"You too JB," I said folding the paper and putting it in the back pocket of my jeans. I hopped on my bike, made a circle around the pumps and over the hose. This time it rang the bell, I looked at JB and I yelled, "Whoo Hoo." He smiled and watched me, as I rode down the street with Max trotting along beside me.
When we got to the diner, I parked my bike against the hedge, right in front of the booth that I ate supper. Max made a couple of circles, pawed at the ground and laid down for his nap. Before I sat down, I pulled the permission slip from my back pocket and sat it on the table. When Mom brought out my supper, she saw it and picked it up and read it. She looked at me, rolled her eyes and mumbled, "I knew JB was going to be trouble." She took the paper, walked to the other end of the diner and entered the phone booth. I watched as she looked at the paper and dialed JB's number. I could see her arguing and waiving the paper around in the phone booth. About that time Smitty came out of the kitchen, looking around for Mom. I pointed to the phone booth and he gave me the what's up look. I told him about the permission slip.
"I don't understand, what's the big deal about me playing baseball?" I whined to Smitty.
"Oh’ boy... Let her calm down and I'll try to talk to her," said Smitty, shaking his head. We watched as Mom slammed the phone down, stormed out of the booth and into the kitchen. Smitty looked at me and raised his eyebrows, let out a big sigh and went into the kitchen. You could hear Mom banging pots and pans around, and cussing at Smitty.
"That God Damn family didn't want a thing to do with me, or that kid when his father was alive!" SLAM; BANG ... "Now all of a sudden, twelve years later they want to stir things up!" CRASH "What the hell, now all of a sudden my skin is white enough!" she cried. I had never seen Mom this mad and I had no idea what she was talking about. I looked through the small window to the kitchen and saw her with her face buried in Smitty's chest. Smitty had his arms around her and was kissing the top of her head. I walked back to my booth and waited. All my life I've asked Mom about my Dad and she would say, "When the time is right, I will tell you everything you want to know." Now I know two things, he's dead and either JB's got something to do with it, or knows something about it. I waited for about fifteen minutes and got kinda’ bored. I reached into my pocket, took out a dime and stuck it into the tabletop jukebox at my booth. Three songs for a dime; I played "Love Me Tender", "Peggy Sue," and some song by the Moon Glows that was relaxing. Mom and Smitty came out of the kitchen. Smitty was behind her and put his pointer finger to his lips, signaling me to keep quiet. Mom gave me a hug and held on for a while. I gave her a kiss on the cheek, while Smitty got a snack for Max, and then headed for home.
On the way home I coasted by Vinnie's Pub. I noticed that Old Man Brennon's Cadillac, was parked out front. The neon lights from the pub reflected off of the shiny mirror like black paint. Sad thoughts of Billy ran through my head. Max cocked up and peed all over the hubcap and wide whitewall on the rear passenger side. "Atta boy, you show him Max,” I giggled and we proceeded home.
When we got to our house, Mrs. Tomas was there working on that darn sweater. She gave me the big hug and then Max and I sat on the steps. We were sitting there chatting, when a car pulled up and stopped in front of our house. It was pretty cool looking; a two door Pontiac with a visor and an Indian head hood ornament, which lit up. To my surprise, out stepped Mr. Foster. He said "Hello Benny," to me and tipped his hat to Mrs. Tomas. He introduced himself to Mrs. Tomas and wanted to know if he could take a picture of Max and me. He said it was for a scrapbook he was putting together. Max and I posed on the steps of the porch for Mr. Foster. The flash was so bright, I couldn't see for a few seconds. After that he invited Mrs. Tomas, Max and I to Judy's Dairy Bar for an ice cream. Max was pretty good at licking the cone, seeing it was his first time. When we came back to the house Mr. Foster and Mrs. Tomas sat out on the porch and visited until 10:00. Long before that, Max and I went upstairs, read comics and listen to the radio.
Saturday morning, I got up at my normal time, ate my Cornflakes and went in and snuggled with Mom. After a while she said, “I want you to finish that English homework this weekend Mister."
"O...Kay," I said in a draggy kind of voice. After a while I grabbed my backpack and told mom I was going to interview some people for my journalism report.
My first stop was Sam's Grocery Store. Sam wasn't too busy, so I asked him if I could interview him.
"Sure Benny, what do you need to know?" Sam replied.
I found out that Sam's parents came here from Israel, in 1904. Sam was born in Jersey City in 1908. (Which by the way I did the math and found out he was 53 years old.) His favorite thing to do as a kid was playing hide and seek with his friends, in the ghettos of Jersey City. When he was 19, he married his high school sweetheart Maria. Maria's grandfather died in 1930 and left this grocery store and the apartment above it to her. Sam lives by himself now, because his wife had a heart attack and died two years ago. All the while I was interviewing Sam, Max sat patiently in front of the deli counter. Sam said "I have a special treat for you my friend." He went behind the counter and slid open the glass door. Next he took out a big hunk of roast beef and sliced a piece off for Max. Sure enough Max stood up and begged, as Sam tossed him the beef. Then Sam reached into the pocket of his shop apron and shared some Milk Duds with me. I thanked him, and then Max and I headed down Cross Cut Alley.
About half way down the alley, Big Billy jumped out from one of the recessed doorways. I slammed on the brakes and made the back tire of my bike squeal. "Damn it Billy, you scared the crap out’ a me!" I said, while trying to catch my breath. Billy was bent over hanging on to his gut laughing. Max was growling and I told him it was ok, as I patted him on the head. I then told Billy to hold out the back of his hand and let Max smell him. Max sniffed him for a few seconds and then Billy was able to pet him.
"How come you are always in this alley Billy?" I asked.
"This door," he said pointing behind him "Leads to my dad's office in the back of the bank," said Billy. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a PayDay candy bar. He broke it in half and gave me a piece.
"Thanks Billy," I said taking a couple of bites and saving a small piece for Max. "I'm headed downtown to interview a few people for an English assignment. Want' a tag along?" I asked.
"Naaa I can't, were supposed to go see my grandparents, so I gotta’ stick around until my dad's ready to go," Billy said, in kind of a bummed voice.
"Don't ya like going to your grandparents?" I asked.
"Well.... I like seeing my grandma, but my grandpa is a real mean bastard. He treats my dad like he doesn't know anything. Always yelling and swearing at him, calling him names. He doesn't treat grandma very well either," Billy said, while kicking a small rock around on the ground. "How about you? Do you like going to your grandparents?"
"Both of my Mom's parents are dead and gone. My dad is dead and I don't know about his family." I said leaning my bike over trying to kick the rock back to him.
"How did your dad die?" asked Billy.
"I really don't know. My mom says, one of these days she will tell me everything about him," I said.
"Yeah it's just me and my dad too," Billy said with a sigh.
"Did your mom die?" I asked.
"No, she left when I was about 8 months old. Dad was always drunk and abusive to her, and she couldn't take it anymore. She wanted to take me with her, but dad wouldn't let her have me. I think it was just another way for him to hurt her. God knows, he could care less about me," he said kicking the rock as far as he could down the alley. "At least I have Rose," he said.
"Who is Rose?" I asked.
"She is our housekeeper, usually she keeps dad off my back. She has some big secret she holds over his head and threatens to tell if he doesn't leave me alone," Billy said with a smile.
"What happened to ya Thursday night?" I asked, squinting one eye at him.
"Thursdays Rose plays bridge with some of the other ladies. I should have known better than to be home on a Thursday," Billy replied. About that time the door from the bank opened up. It was Old Man Brennon.
"Billy, get yer sorry ass up to Sam's and get that six pack of those cigars, like I told ya to an hour ago." He was a huge man with a mean voice, which made me cringe when he spoke. However, the other day he knew he was no match for Smitty.
"See ya later Billy," I said, trying to get my bike rolling.
"Later," said Billy, and we headed for opposite ends of the alley.
Next stop was Vinnie’s Pub. When Max and I arrived, the front door was blocked open with a case of beer and the stools were all up on top of the bar. The friendly barkeep was mopping the floor and Vinnie himself was stocking the cooler with beer. Max went over to the barkeep wagging his tail. The barkeep then gave him a few pats on the head and carried on a conversation like Max was human. Max must have understood him, cause he was talking back in a low howl. I looked at Vinnie and shook my head. Vinnie smiled back at me, not missing a beat stocking the bottles of beer.
"Hi Vinnie, I need to interview you for an English assignment," and I told him the whole story about having to have five pages and all. He took down a couple of bar stools, grabbed two beers and a coke from the cooler. While popping the tops off with a bottle opener, he motioned for the barkeep to pull up a stool. Vinnie was born and raised right here in Hammer Mill. When he was a kid, he enjoyed fishing and camping with his dad. When he was 18, he enlisted in the Army. He was stationed in Belgium,( a place in Northwestern Europe) during World War II. When he came home in 1944, he took over the family business, which is the Pub. In 1946, he married his wife Betty. He has two daughters, Cindy who is in my class and Barb who is in ninth grade.
The barkeep's name is Keith Armstrong. He was born in Germany and became friends with Vinnie during World War II. He came to the United States in 1946, to be Vinnie’s best man, (in Vinnie's and his wife's wedding.) He liked it here so much he decided to stay. His wife Linda works in the Post Office and they have no children. His favorite thing to do as a kid was flying kites. He makes his own kites as a hobby and said he would take me kiting sometime.
I thanked them both for the interview and the soda. When I got to the door, I looked to see if Max was following me, and he wasn't. Glancing around I saw he was under the pool table, fast asleep. I gave him a little whistle and he jumped up, bumping his noggin on the bottom of the pool table. We all laughed. Max looked at Vinnie and Keith, then gave them a bark as if to say, what's so funny? We then proceeded down the street to Smitty's.
When I got to the diner, it was pretty busy. Smitty has two high school girls wait on tables on the weekends, so Mom can have time off. Poor Smitty works seven days a week. I sat at the counter and one of the girls asked if I wanted anything?
"I'll have a chocolate milk and a hot dog please," I said. A few minutes later the girl brought my order and I tried to hand her two dollars.
"You know Smitty will give me heck if I take yer money kid," she said, while taking my baseball hat off and putting it in my lap. I knew it wasn't good manners to wear your hat at the table, but I forgot I had it on.
After I was through eating, I left her a quarter tip and went out back to see Smitty. It was rather hot in the kitchen, and Smitty had the back door open. Through the screen you could see Max, sitting there waiting for a hand out. Smitty was flipping burgers and deep-frying potatoes. He was so busy working, that he didn't see me walk in. I watched as he took a burger to the door and gave it to Max.
"Ya aint ever gonna turn a profit, if you keep feeding Moochers," I said. Smitty jumped and turned around.
"Ya scared the crap out a’ me," Smitty said, clutching his chest. "What’s ya up to today Kiddo?" he asked, while lifting the basket to let the grease drain off of the fries.
I sat down to the worktable behind him and asked, "When and where were ya born?"
"Your English assignment... Well I was wondering if you were ever going to get to me." He said while chopping up some lettuce.
Smitty was born in Binghamton NY, in 1928. His family moved here to Hammer Mill NJ, when he was in fifth grade. As a kid he loved sports, and hanging out at Pop's service station, which is now JB's. He was good at baseball and football in high school. After high school he enlisted in the United States Marines and was stationed at Camp Le jejune, in North Carolina. There he earned the title as Heavy Weight Champion for the United States Marines, from 1946-1951. There was a belt, trophy and newspaper clippings in a showcase above the counter in the diner to prove it. Smitty took out a loan in 1952 for the diner and has lived in a small room in the back ever since.
"Did you know my dad?" I asked, catching him off guard.
He hesitated a minute and said "Yes Benny I knew your dad. You know your Mom doesn't want me to say anything about him, until she thinks it's time," he said, while ringing the bell to let the waitress know an order was ready.
"Yeah, I know.... Thanks for the lunch and the interview," I said, walking slowly towards the screen door, where Max was.
"Benny.... I will tell you this and it stays between you and me. Your dad was my best friend and he was North County's All-star Pitcher for Hammer Mill High, in 1945." Smitty pointed at me and back to himself, then put his pointer finger to his lips
"Thanks Smitty," I said with a big smile and headed for JB's. When Max and I got to JB's, he was jacking Sam's delivery panel truck up with a bottle jack.
"Whata’ ya doin?" I asked, while coasting up to the entrance of the garage. Max came up and licked JB's face while he was on one knee adjusting the jack.
"Oh, Sam's truck needs a new wheel bearing. I’d use the lift but that Ford is on it. I'm waiting for brake parts for that," he said while trying to fit the bottle jack under the frame near the front axle. He loosened the lugs on the wheel and jacked the truck up. Next he took the lugs the rest of the way off and removed the wheel. About that time a sharp turquoise and white 1960 Corvette ragtop pulled up to the pumps. There was a girl with long blond hair in the driver’s seat.
"Do ya want me to get that?" I asked JB.
"Nope, I'll get it," he said, wiping his hands on a grease rag and slicking back his hair.
I leaned against the opening to the garage door with my arms folded and watched as he carefully took the gas cap off. It was located on the top center of the rear deck lid. 'Dumb design,' I thought to myself. It must be pretty hard to put the gas in without dripping on, or scratching the car. The lady got out of the car and leaned against the fender while talking to JB. She was wearing tight turquoise slacks that come down just below the knees. They had the zipper on the side. She also had on a tight white sweater, sunglasses and white tennis shoes. She walked like a burlap bag full of bobcats, when she followed JB to the front of the car; and watched him check the oil. JB then washed her windshield. I stood there shaking my head, as she put her arms around his neck and started to make out with him. While JB opened her door, she turned and waved saying, "Hi Benny." My jaw dropped to the floor, the voice coming from this beautiful woman was Miss Jones'. I've always seen her with her hair up, glasses on, and dressed in a skirt and blazer. As she pulled out, she blew JB another kiss and beeped the horn. When JB walked back, I was still leaning against the door opening.
"Wish I got tips like that," I said, making a few smooching sounds and giggling. JB grinned and pulled my ball cap down over my eyes.
JB went back to fixing the wheel bearing on Sam's truck. He sat on the floor in front of the hub and removed the dust cap and cotter key, which kept the lock nut from loosening up. Next he took a screwdriver and backed the self-adjuster off of the drum brakes. He removed the lock nut and tried to pull off the brake drum, which housed the wheel bearing. It wouldn't budge. JB then gave the drum a big yank. When he did the drum came off, throwing him off balance. His right leg went under the truck, and the force of the drum coming loose made the truck fall off of the jack. JB was in excruciating pain from the weight of the truck crushing his leg. The front of the truck was tipped against the concrete floor, like a chair with three legs. At first I was in shock and just couldn't move. I saw JB's eyes roll back in his head and he passed out. I started yelling, "Help!" to the top of my lungs. I scrambled under the front of the truck to see if I could reposition the jack. The jack was lying on its side, pinned under the front axle. I could see the shinbone sticking through JB's pant leg and the fender had his thigh pinned to the floor. I was franticly trying to get the jack freed up. Out of the corner of my eye, a large steel pipe appeared under the frame of the truck. I heard a loud groan and the truck lifted up just high enough for me to reset the jack. When I crawled from under the truck there stood Big Billy. He was standing there like a giant. He had the drive shaft that he had found under the bench and used it to lift the truck with on his shoulder. Together we pulled JB out from under the truck. He was bleeding profusely from his thigh. Billy found a piece of speaker wire on the bench and tied it above the wound, to slow down the bleeding. Something he had learned in Boy Scouts. He stayed with JB, while Max and I went to the diner, to get help.
I returned with Smitty. Smitty made a splint out of a broom handle and masking tape. JB was still unconscious, when we loaded him into the passenger side of his 34-Ford coupe. Smitty fired the hot-rod up, and tore out up the street for Borrow Springs. That was the closest hospital and it was 22 miles away. It’s been said, that if you needed an ambulance, it would have to come from Burrow Springs. So by the time they came 22 miles to get you and 22 miles back; if what ailed ya didn't kill ya, you would probably die of old age before a doctor saw ya.
"Man was I glad to see you," I told Billy, taping him lightly in the shoulder with my fist. "Thought you were going to your grandparents?"
"Well... some of my dad's friends, Sheriff Johnson, Joe Bob Warner and a couple of other guys, showed up at dad's office and decided to play some poker. I figure he'll be drunk by five, so there aint no way were going," said Billy.
About that time the phone rang, it was Mom. She told me that she had called JB's Dad and he was coming down to close up the gas station. I told her that I would wait here, until he arrived.
I was pumping gas for a customer, when JB's dad pulled in with his black, 56 Chevy truck. He was grey haired and kinda’ crippled, wore a ball cap and used a cane. I finished servicing the customer, walked into the station and put the money into the cash register.
"You must be Benny?" he asked, reaching out to shake my hand. "My name is Pops, and who is this big bruiser?" he asked, looking at Billy.
"Billy Brennon sir," Billy said, reaching his hand out. Pops didn't shake his hand and Billy put his back in his pocket.
"Well, aint this the most unlikely pair," Pop said, mumbling as he went to the cash register and put the money into a bank envelope. He then took the closed sign and put it in the window and closed the doors to the two garage bays. I took JB's clipboard out and wrote down the tally on the regular and high-test pumps. I made sure the power switch to the pumps was shut off, when I returned the clipboard. Billy waited outside, while we closed up.
"Ya know ya could have at least shaken his hand. If it wasn't for him, JB would probably still be under that damn truck," I said, scolding the grumpy old geezer.
"That'll be a cold day in hell, when I shake the hand of a Brennon," Pops said, locking the station door and then limping to his truck.
"Sorry Billy, that just wasn't right of him," I said, pushing my bike, so Max and I could walk with him down the street.
"Well I'm used to it; most people don't like my ole man. They figure that I'm just like him and I guess in some ways, I am," said Billy.
"Well… I don't think yer ole man, would have lifted that truck off of JB's leg and helped him into the car. In my book, that makes ya a whole lot different," I said, sliding my back pack up on my shoulder.
When we got to the diner, I leaned my bike against the hedge and Max laid down to take his nap. I started up the steps and Billy said, "See ya later Ben."
"Aren't ya coming in?" I asked.
"Na, nobody in there likes me," Billy said looking down, scuffing his toe on the sidewalk.
"C'mon I like ya and I'm gonna be in there," I said motioning for him to come in. Once inside we took my normal booth. Shortly after Barb, (Vinnie's daughter) came over to our booth and took our order.
"Where's Mom?" I asked her.
"She's out in the kitchen cooking for Smitty. It’s her day off, but Smitty sent Mr. Foster to get her, when you came in here yelling for help. What the heck happened, anyway?" Barb asked.
As I started to tell her the story, all the people in the diner listened closely. When I told about Billy being the hero, he blushed. After I finished, people were coming up to our booth and telling Billy how proud they were of him. Sam even shook our hands and paid for our meals.
It was pretty late and Smitty wasn't back in time to close the diner. Billy and I helped Mom and the girls finish cleaning up. Max was getting tired of waiting and was whining at the door.
"How did you know that JB and Benny needed help?" Mom asked looking at Billy.
"Well.... I heard this loud sissy like voice screaming, Help!" (He flinched, as I smiled and punched him in the arm.) "About then Max came running down the sidewalk barking. I put the back of my hand out so he could smell me, like Benny taught me. Max latched onto my sleeve and pulled me toward JB's, the rest you know," Billy explained.
"Well, I'm glad you were there Billy," Mom said, giving Billy a pat on the shoulder.
We locked up and Max was nowhere to be found.
"I wonder where he could be!" Mom said looking around.
"I've got a pretty good idea where he is," I said, as we walked towards home. When we got to Vinnie’s Pub, the door was open and you could hear the jukebox playing, Jerry Lee's, "Great Balls of Fire" in the background. The noise of people conversing and having a good time was apparent, along with the sound of the billiard balls bumping together. I looked in the door and saw that Max was behind the bar, under foot. Mr. Armstrong, (the barkeep) didn't seem to mind and just walked around and over him as he tended bar. I gave a few short whistles. The people in the bar couldn't hear it, but Max's keen ears could. He weaved his way through the crowd at the bar and came out wagging his tail. Mom looked at me and rolled her eyes.
"I'm tellen ya Mom, he's a Mooch, "I explained and we giggled. About that time, Old Man Brannon's Caddy pulled up to the curb. He got out with some woman and they giggled and stumbled into Vinnie's. They were so drunk; they didn't even notice us standing there. Mom told Billy to take my bike and go home. She figured that if he got to the house first that Rose would keep him safe. Billy thanked her, said good-bye to Max and me and rode off into the night.
About eleven thirty that night, Smitty stopped by the house and said that they had to keep JB over night. He said that JB had a cast from his upper thigh, to the end of his foot. Pop was going to pick him up in the morning. Mom told me it was time for bed. I think they stayed on the couch and smooched, long after I fell asleep.
The next morning, while Max and I were walking down to Sam's, to get a dozen eggs and some bacon for mom Mrs. Tomas pulled up with her 55 Chevy. I opened her passenger door to see what she wanted.
"Good morning Sweetie," she said.
"I just wanted you to know, that I'm so proud of you and Billy. At church today, the preacher told us how you boys came to JB's rescue," she said in tears. I crawled in on the seat and hugged her.
"Don't cry, it was no big deal," I told her. Max crawled in on the floor board next to us, whined and reached his head up to lick her tears. We got her cheered up and went on our way.
Later, Billy came by with my bike and played some catch with an old football I had. "Are you going out for Little League Tuesday?" Billy asked.
"I want to but Mom won’t let me," I said reaching for the ball, as it went over my head. "Are you?" I asked.
"I have to," said Billy.
"What do ya mean, ya have to?" I asked, cocking my head and squinting one eye.
"My dad makes me; I have to play for Brennon's Bankers no matter what. If we lose it’s always my fault. I wish I didn't have to play," Billy said with a sigh. About that time, Max grabbed the ball away from me. We chased him all over the yard, giggling and trying to tackle him. He was so fast and he would come just close enough to tease us. It turned into a great game of keep away. When we got the ball back, we would try to pass it to the other guy, before Max touched ya. I noticed Mom watching out the kitchen window, while she did the dishes.
Monday morning came too soon. I got up when the alarm went off and went down stairs and had a bowl of ... (wrong) oatmeal. I went in to give Mom a hug. She was snoring, so I had a little fun teasing her face, with the string on my hooded sweatshirt. I would let it tickle her face, making it feel like a fly and watched her try to shoo it away, with her eyes closed. To my surprise she caught on, not letting me know, and jumped up and grabbed me real fast. It scared the heck out of me and I let out a yell. Max came running in and jumped up on the bed and started barking.
"Real funny Mom!" I scolded.
"Don't mess with me when I'm sleeping then," she giggled. I gave her a hug and Max and I went on our way.
When we got to Cross Cut Alley Billy was waiting for us. As we went down the alley, I told him how I used to be scared of this place. Mainly, because I was afraid he would be hiding there to beat me up. He laughed and lightly punched me in the shoulder and jokingly called me Sissy Boy. When we got to JB's, the station was locked. JB must have been running late so, I left my bike leaning against one of the bay doors. Max, Billy and I proceeded to school. When we got there, things were not normal. Kids were saying, "Hi" to Billy. Even the girls only scratched Max's ears for a short time, before coming over to talk to Billy. Billy was bombarded with questions and praises. I was happy to see kids acknowledging him and to see him feel good about himself.
After school, Max met me with his usual greeting. We hurried down the street to JB's. When we got there, JB was sitting in one chair and resting his cast in the other. Pops was fueling up a customer.
"Hey JB, how ya doin?" I asked.
"I'm ok, considering," JB replied. "Benny, I appreciate everything you, Max and Billy did the other day."
"Awe, it was nothin," I said, with my hands in my pocket, bashfully trying not to make eye contact.
"Well it was Benny and I'm grateful," said JB.
About that time, Pops came into the station. "So what do ya do here for a living, stand around bullshit and eat doughnuts?" Pops growled.
"Well... usually if there aint a customer, I sweep the floor. Seeing how somebody needed the broom handle for a splint, I can't do that anymore," I said in a stern voice. I looked at JB; he grinned and flipped me the bird. Pops looked the other way, trying not to laugh.
"He's just like his ole man," Pops mumbled to JB.
"By the way what is the connection between you and my dad," I asked JB. The place turned quiet. All you could hear was Max crunching on his dog food. Just then, Mrs. Tomas pulled up to the pumps and JB nodded for me to attend to her.
"Hi Sweetie, fill her up," she said, looking through her purse for her billfold. I filled the 55 Chevy up with gas, checked the oil and washed the windshield.
"Three fifty Ma’am," I said with a smile, handing her the green stamps. She handed me three seventy-five, Grabbed me and planted a big kiss on my cheek. "Mrs. Tomas! You can't do that when I'm working," I scolded. I looked to see if Pops and JB had seen what had happened. It looked like they didn't. I winked at her. She smiled and said, see ya later Sweetie.
When I walked back into the office of the station, Pops stood there leaning against the counter. He had a smirk on his face and his hand on his hip.
"Aint Mrs. Tomas a little old for you?" JB said kinda’ serious.
“Shut Up! Didn't think ya saw it," I said, joking and blushing.
"We can't help but see it. It's all over yer cheek, Lover Boy," Pops said, giving me a wink. I rubbed my cheek trying to get the lipstick off, as they both laughed. It didn't take me long to learn that Pops liked to dish it out. However more important, he liked someone who could give it back to him. I think that's why all the guy's liked to hang out at his gas station, when they were kids.
When the workday ended, I washed up in the men's room and slicked back my hair. I noticed that JB had put my bike in by the workbench, where I normally park it. I stuck my head into the office and told the guys that I’d see them tomorrow.
"Get some sleep Kid. Maybe we can get some work out of ya tomorrow," Pops yelled, as I hopped on Ole Silver.
"Don't stay up to late smooching with Mrs. Tomas," yelled JB. I just smiled and shook my head, as they both laughed at me.
Max and I arrived to the diner and did our normal routine. When I got to my booth, there was a newspaper lying on the table, with a paper bag next to it. The paper was folded to the second page. There, as big as could be, was a picture of Max and me. The heading read “Boy and Dog Help Man IN Need." There was a whole column about Max and me helping Mr. Foster. In the bag was a brand new ball and glove, along with a permission slip signed by Mom and a note from Mr. Foster. The note read Thank you Benny! .... Signed, your friend Mr. Foster.
When Mom came out with my supper, she sat next to me. "Why didn't you tell me about Mr. Foster?" she asked.
"I don't know... Guess I forgot," I said, munching on a French fry. "Thanks for letting me join Little League Mom," and I gave her a big hug. Mom went back to her job. I finished my supper and read the rest of the paper. The front-page headline read "Local Banker Being Investigated." The article said that new evidence has come in, about the shooting death of a bank robber, back in 1949. North County's prosecutor's office says, fowl play may have been the cause of death of the 19 year old from Hammer Mill, NJ.
On our way home, we stopped at Vinnie’s Pub and thanked Mr. Foster for the ball and glove. Vinnie said, I’d better practice, because his team was pretty good. Then I heard a deep voice say, "JB's team doesn’t stand a chance in hell boy." I turned and looked at the bar. There sat Old Man Brennon, with a whiskey in one hand and a cigar in the other. "Brennon's Bankers have been the champions for two years. Aint nobody beat us since Billy was old enough to play," he bragged.
"Well ... You just might have to eat them words Mr. Brennon," I said, and the bar broke out in laughter. Brennon then slammed his drink on the bar and stomped his foot on the floor, as if to come after me. It scared the daylights out ‘a me! Max growled and showed his teeth and we both ran for our lives. Once outside I could hear the laughter in the bar, especially Old Man Brennon. About a half a block down the street sat Brennon's big black Caddy. Max peed on his tire again. If it was a little darker outside, I would have peed on it myself.
The next day at school, we were reminded that in four days our English assignment was due. I wasn't worried, because I only lacked a half a page to finish it.
When the final bell rang, I grabbed my backpack and left the classroom. I stopped in the school lobby where there was a big trophy case. I walked along slowly, looking through the glass at the trophies. I saw the 1960 marching band, 1958 football, and basketball, etc. finally I came to baseball 1945. There was a big trophy and a picture of the team. They were all wearing varsity jackets and Smitty towered above the rest. I read the names and looked at the picture, looking for someone with the last name of Black. Sure enough, front row center, crouched down so everyone could fit in, was pitcher Johnny Black. I thought to myself, how many times have I walked by the picture and never knew he was here. Next to the trophy was a framed newspaper clipping, telling of his achievement, of becoming a North County All-Star.
I went outside and there was Max, flirting with the girls."C'mon Max, were gonna be late for work," I said. He gave the girls a little bark, as if to say good-bye and walked with me to JB's.
At the station, Pops was waiting on a customer and JB was on the phone ordering parts. I went to put my backpack, with my bike at the end of the bench. There was a new broom leaning against my bike, with my name painted on the handle. I snickered, took the broom and swept out the two bays. When I was finished, I went to my backpack and took out my new ball, glove and the permission slip. I walked into the office and handed the slip to JB.
"How did ya get her to sign it?" JB asked with a smile. "She about tore me a new one on the phone last week."
"I used the ole charm on her... and of course getting my picture in the paper helped a whole lot," I said, strutting around like a big shot. JB and Pops looked at each other and laughed.
"Nice glove," Pops said looking at the stitching. I told him about it being a gift from Mr. Foster. Pops then went into the garage and pawed through the top of the toolbox on the bench. He found a piece of soapstone, (which was used for marking metal before you cut it with a torch.) Using the soapstone, he marked a spot in the center of the floor in the first bay. From there, while walking with his cane, he paced off a distance toward the street, and made another mark. As I watched in wonder, JB hobbled into the office and opened the closet door. He came back with a long white rope, a boat cushion, catcher’s mask, chest protection and a well-used catcher's mitt. JB put his ball cap on backwards and suited up in the catcher's equipment. He couldn't get in the normal stance, because of his cast. Pops brought him over a short stool. JB sat on it and extended his leg with the cast out to the side. Pops then took an old 55-gallon drum and laid it in front of JB's injured leg, for protection. JB put the boat cushion in front of the soapstone mark and held on to one end of the rope. Pops handed me the rest of the rope and told me to stretch it to the mark he made out towards the street. JB explained, that mark was to be the pitcher’s mound.
"Well let's see what ya got Kid!" said Pops.
"What's the rope for?" I asked.
"It's a visual aid ... Umm something to help train you to throw straight," said JB. "Just wind up and try to throw the ball straight down the rope." I stood on the so-called pitcher’s mound and concentrated for a second. I wound up and fired my best fastball. It went about three feet over JB's head, at about 90 miles an hour. The ball ricocheted off of the exhaust pipes hanging on the wall at the back of the garage, then to the wall on the right, back to the left just missing JB's head, (which he was ducking and covering with his arms) off of the concrete floor and up smashing the light bulb that was above the bench. The ball then came to rest in front of the office door, which Pops was hiding behind. Max walked over, picked up the ball and took it to JB.
"Sorry," I said, cringing and showing all of my front teeth.
"Holey Shit," said JB, looking at Pops, who sported a big grin.
"He's got his ole mans speed, we just got to teach him some control," Pops said with enthusiasm. It was then that Pops had no doubt that I was his grandson. About that time a customer pulled in. Pops and I waited on them. While I checked the oil and washed the windshield Pops pumped gas and talked about baseball. From then on, that was the way work went after school. Pops showed me how to throw a knuckle ball, a slider, and a curve and helped me get the most out of my fastball. After school, Mike would come to the station. JB would coach Mike on catching, while JB stood on alternating sides of the plate, to simulate the batter.
Friday came and I still lacked a half a page on my report. When Max and I stopped to drop my bike off at the station, I told Pops about my assignment. Pops was born in 1902, the son of a tenant farmer, just outside of Hammer Mill. He went to school here until the 8th grade. He had to quit school, because his father became sick and couldn't run the farm. He loved sports, like baseball and football. However, his greatest passion was cars. His dad died when he was 14, and they lost the lease on the farm, due to a poor crop season. His mom had to take a job in the mill. Pops took on any small job that he could to help her feed the family. In 1929, he married a beautiful woman named Margaret, who gave him two wonderful sons. In 1932, he took out a loan for the service station. In 1949, the eldest son died. Pops wife Margaret had a breakdown and suffered from depression, which led to her taking her own life in, 1950. Pops raised JB on doughnuts and motor oil, that's why he acts so goofy. (Miss Jones I'm just reporting what I've been told!) That was enough to finish my assignment.
Interviewing Pops, made Max and I a little late for school. We said our good-byes at the door. I handed in my assignment on time and was relieved. There were only three days of school left, before it was summer vacation and I couldn't wait. It seemed like I’d been in seventh grade, forever.
After school, I went to JB's and practiced with Mike, in-between waiting on customers. Our first game was tomorrow and I was a little nervous. JB told me not to worry, just have fun.
When we got to the diner, things were pretty normal. Max took his nap and I ate my supper. I went out into the kitchen and jumped up and sat on the counter next to Smitty, who was standing there making hamburger patties.
"Hey Benny," Smitty said, goofing around pretending to wipe some hamburger on my face. I leaned back, making a scared look. I waited until Mom went out of the kitchen with an order before speaking.
"I figured out that Pops is my grandfather and JB is my uncle," I said to Smitty.
"Does your Mom know that you have figured this out?" Smitty asked, looking out of the corner of his eye.
"No, nobody knows, but you and Max.... I think I'm gonna keep it that way for a while," I told him.
"Yeah that would be best," Smitty said going to the fridge and getting a bag of scraps, which he had saved for Max.
"We've got a game tomorrow, behind the high school at 2:00," I said. "I know ya probably can't make it, but I thought I’d let ya know. “See ya Smitty” and I walked out the door. Mom was busy and blew me a kiss. I gave her a wink and a wave, as I went on my way.
When max and I got home; Mr. Foster’s car was parked in front of the house. He was sitting on the porch railing, talking to Mrs. Tomas. She was sitting in the rocker, working on that darn sweater again.
"Hi there Mr. Foster," I said, shaking his hand.
"How's that new glove working out for ya?" He asked.
"Just dandy, Mr. Foster," I said, working my way to give Mrs. Tomas a hug. "We've got a game tomorrow, at 2:00 behind the school, if ya want to come."
"Who ya playing against Benny?" he asked.
"Sam's Grocery," I said, bending over to give Mrs. Tomas her hug. I noticed she had a bouquet of flowers lying neatly on the floor, next to her rocker. With my back to Mr. Foster, I looked at the flowers and then back at Mrs. Tomas, giving her a couple of quiet smooch gestures. As I walked away, she poked me in the butt with the dull end of the knitting needle, making me jump. I looked back and gave her a grin, as Max and I disappeared into the house.
For some reason, the first thing I do when I walk into the house is check the refrigerator. Hungry or not, I'll stand there looking over what's in there. If mom's home she'll yell, "Benny, get the hell out of that damn refrigerator!" I'll take the cardboard plug out ‘a the milk jug and take a slug of milk. She'll then yell, without even seeing me, "Get a glass, don't drink out ‘a the bottle!" (Weird huh?) As I walked by the table, I noticed a sheet of paper folded and lying on top of an envelope. I picked it up and it read.... Mrs. Molly Black, you have been served. This subpoena is for the District Court Of North County. You are to appear on June 23rd, of 1961, as a character witness for the Prosecutors Office, at the County Courthouse, 132 Justice Drive, Burrow Springs, NJ. Fail to do so, will result in fines and or imprisonment. I folded the paper back up and placed it like it was. I had no idea what a subpoena was, or what a character witness was. However, I was curious why mom would be called to appear in court.
The next day, Max and I arrived at the ball field behind the school about, one fifteen. JB was already there and was handing out hats and shirts that said JB's Service Station on them. As I warmed up with Mike, the other team was showing up. Sam looked funny in a T-shirt, jeans and a ball cap. I had only seen him in a white shirt, white pants and shop apron. He came over and shook JB's hand and said "Hello" to all of us. We all went over and huddled around JB and had a little pep talk about sportsmanship; and that this was just for fun. Max snuggled into the huddle wearing a JB's Service Station T-shirt of his own. We all laughed and hugged him. Later, I found out Pops was the one who put the shirt on him. The Little League was made up of only seventh, eighth and ninth graders. The game went better than I had thought it would. After a few pitches I calmed down and things went pretty smooth. When I looked in the crowd there was Mom, Mrs. Tomas and Mr. Foster. I was a little disappointed; I really wanted Smitty to see me play. Pops had told me to only use my fastball on the eighth and ninth graders and to only use it once in a while. He said if I used it too much, I could throw my arm out and besides it should be kept for their best hitters. Pops didn't believe in walking a guy on purpose. We won 11 to 8 and I even struck out a ninth grader. After the game we all piled into the back of Pops truck. Sam and JB treated all of us, to an ice cream cone at Judy's. It was a great day.
In the next three weeks, we played seven games and won them all. We had made it to the championship playoffs, which were to be held on Saturday, at the ball field behind the school. Of course we were going to play the other undefeated team, Brennon's Bankers. It was time to make Old Man Brennon, eat them words.
Friday night, Max and I went to the diner after work as usual. I was sitting at my booth waiting for Mom to bring out my supper, when I noticed Big Billy walking by. I saw him stop and scratch Max's ears, and then look towards the diner. I got up and went to the door, opened it up and gave Billy a yell. "Hey Big Billy," I said in a deep gruff voice. He came over to the steps, smiled, and punched me in the shoulder.
"How ya doin Sissy Boy?" he asked as he followed me to my booth.
Mom came out bringing me a burger, fries and a coke and sat it in front of me. "Hi Billy, can I get ya something?" she asked.
"No thank you Mrs. Black," he said. A few minutes later, she brought him out a coke and fries. Billy smiled and thanked her. The mooch had already ate half of mine.
"Benny, I just want to tell ya, after this game tomorrow ... umm, no matter what the outcome is ... we can still be friends, can't we?" Billy asked.
"Billy, it's just a game, were gonna kick yer butts so bad anyways!" I said. Billy then pushed me in the corner of the booth and pretended to beat me up. About that time, we saw his Ole Man drive by.
"Gotta’ go," he said. He thanked mom again and headed out the door.
I went out into the kitchen, to say hi to Smitty. I didn't see him around so I waited for a few minutes. I noticed a newspaper on his desk and picked it up to read it, while I was waiting for him. As I picked it up, I knocked a paper off the desk onto the floor. It looked familiar; it was a subpoena just like Mom's. I put it back on the desk, and started reading the paper. The headline read, "Hearing Is Scheduled by North County Prosecutors Office." It went on to say the hearing was set for June 23rd, 1961. The Court will decide if the County Prosecutors have enough evidence to go to trial, in the shooting death of Johnny Black. Prominent Banker William J. Brennon Sr. claims, Black was trying to rob the Brennon National Bank after hours, in Hammer Mill, in May of 1949. Brennon was in his office and shot Black at close range. New evidence may show a different account of the incident
About then, Smitty came in through the back door. He had been out putting the garbage to the curb, for tomorrow's pickup.
"Hey Ben!" said Smitty, while washing his hands.
"Hi Smitty, play-offs are tomorrow behind the school," I said.
"Yeah ... Think ya can beat em?" he asked, giving me a glance.
"I hope so, I’d like to see Old Man Brennon eat his words," I said with a smile.
"Don't have much for scraps today," Smitty said handing me a paper sack.
“Don’t worry, Max has so many of you guys giving him food; it's a wonder he can walk," I chuckled.
When I reached for the door Smitty said, “JB says your fast ball reminds him of your dad." I gave him a grin and left, but not without giving mom a hug.
The next day, the butterflies were churning in my stomach, as I warmed up with Mike. Brennon's Bankers showed up in complete baseball uniforms. Brennon liked to show off his money.
It was a pretty close game all the way to the top of the fifth inning. Our league only played five. We were ahead 5 to 3, two outs, a man on first and a man on third. Big Billy was batting cleanup, and I already had two strikes on him. Nobody could hit my fastball. Old Man Brennon summoned Billy to the backstop, as JB called time out. JB hobbled on crutches and approached the mound. Max accompanied him with his team T-shirt on. You could hear Old Man Brennon scolding Billy.
"What do I do?" I asked JB. Do I throw another fastball and strike him out? If I do, his Ole Man will say it's his fault and beat him. If I walk him on purpose, Pops will be mad at me. If I let him hit, were gonna lose.
JB took a hold of both of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes. He told me," There's gonna’ be times in your life, when certain decisions define who you really are. This is one of those times, when you have to do what you think is right. I want you to know, whatever pitch you give, I'm behind you 100 percent. He pulled my hat down over my eyes and hobbled back over to the bench. When I pulled my hat back up, Max was still sitting next to the mound. I pointed to the bench and he just barked at me once. The spectators all laughed and JB gave him a whistle. Max jumped up, put his paws on my chest, licked my face and returned to the bench. I think he could sense that I was upset.
The Empire yelled, "PLAY BALL." Big Billy stepped up to the plate and took a couple of practice swings. Mike assumed the catchers stance and held down one finger, as a signal for curveball. I slightly shook my head no. He put down two fingers, for knuckleball and I slightly shook my head no. He then gave me the thumbs up signal, for fastball and I slightly nodded yes. I wound up like I was going to burn one in there, and threw the ball straight down the imaginary rope, at about 60 miles an hour, (about two thirds the speed of my fastball.) CRACK! Billy put the ball in orbit. It went about 20 feet over the fence at center field. Billy didn't run the bases; he just walked to the pitcher’s mound and shook my hand.
"Thanks Benny," said Billy. "You just saved me a whipping."
As I walked over to JB, the other parents on our side booed me. The rest of my team was mad, until Pops asked, "Who wants ice cream?”
I didn't find out until later, that Smitty watched the game from up by the school. He said he didn't want me to know he was watching. He thought it would just put more pressure on me.
Sunday morning I woke to the smell of bacon. Max and I went down stairs to find that mom had breakfast all ready for us. During our conversation, I asked her what a subpoena was? She told me it was just a legal document, telling you that you have to appear in court. I then asked her what character witness was? She said it's... a person that knows another individual well, and can vouch for them on his or her behalf.
"So for instance, I could say that Max is a good dog, because I've had him since he was a pup, and I know him well?" I questioned.
"Yes, sort of like that," She replied, as she started to clear the table.
"Mom, I've been reading the papers. Did my dad try to rob the Brennon National Bank?" I asked. I was prepared for her to go through the roof. However, she must have figured out that I knew about JB and Pops. She sat back down and we had a long talk. I also talked her into letting me go to the hearing, on Tuesday.
Monday morning, Max and I were heading down Cross Cut Alley on our way to JB's. Max was in the lead and when he reached the back door to the bank he stopped and wagged his tail. I knew Big Billy was hiding there, because Max blew his cover.
"That's cheating, sending Max for a scout," Billy chuckled. When I got a good look at him, he was sporting a black eye and a split lip again.
"What the heck? Your team won!" I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
"Yeah, well... He said this was for you making a fool of him. He says everybody knows you threw the game," said Billy.
"Sorry Billy, I thought I was doing the right thing," I explained.
"Don't worry about it, sometimes with my Ole Man there aint no right thing. Damned if ya do, and damned if ya don't, said Billy. "I don't think it will happen again. I told him I wasn't gonna’ take it anymore and started swinging back. After I knocked out his left front tooth, he left me alone. I told him if he ever touched me again, I'd kill him."
"Yer Kidding ME?" I said, with my eyes wide-open.
"Nope... I was mad and I'd had enough of him," explained Billy. “Where ya headed?"
"JB's, want to tag along?" I asked.
"Naa ...his ole man doesn't like me, and he'll probably be there," said Billy.
"Oh Yeah, forgot about that. Catch ya later," I said, trying to get Ole Silver under motion.
"See ya later Sissy Boy," he said grabbing a hold of the back of my bike seat and pushing it down the alley like a rocket. I finally got going fast enough to where he couldn't keep up and I yelled "WOO HOO." I was going so fast that I barely made the corner on to Main Street, without wiping out.
When we got to the station, there was a man in a suit and tie talking to JB and Pops. Max went to his food dish, and I parked my bike by the bench. I could hear them talking about the hearing that was going to take place in Burrow Springs tomorrow. When I walked into the office, they quit talking.
"It's ok guys, I know all about the hearing. I even talked mom into letting me go with her tomorrow," I said, while filling Max's water dish. They looked at each other and the relief on their faces was apparent. About then, a customer pulled in for gas.
"I got it Pops," I said, and left them to talk about their business. I kept busy sweeping out the bays and waiting on customers, so I wouldn't interrupt their conversation.
When it came time to leave for the diner, JB asked if mom and I needed a ride to the hearing tomorrow. I told him, that Mrs. Tomas said that Smitty could borrow her 55 Chevy and that mom and I were going to ride with him. We said our good-byes, and Max and I headed for the diner.
At the diner, mom sat with me, while I ate my supper. She was pretty quiet and I think she was having second thoughts, about letting me go to the hearing.
"Benny, there are some things that are going to be said tomorrow, that are not true. There are also things that are going to be said, that are. The Grand Jury will have to sort out the truth from the lies and so will you.... I'm not sure you are ready for all of this," she said, with a tear rolling down her cheek. I hugged her, and did my best to convince her that I could handle it.
The next morning, Smitty pulled up in front of the house in the 55 Chevy, at around eight o'clock. He beeped the horn and waited in the car. I opened the door and mom slid in next to Smitty and gave him a good morning smooch. I smiled, sat next to mom and explained to Max that he couldn't go. He went moping back to the house, to lie on the porch.
When Smitty took off, the Chevy felt like a different car. There wasn't any jerking, chugging or gear grinding like there was with Mrs. Tomas. The car rode smooth and the exhaust sounded tough as Smitty went through the gears. I tuned the radio in and caught the last two verses of "Momma Said" by The Shirelles; my favorite group at the time. On the way to Burrow Springs Smitty explained to me that the hearing was like a ball game, we were playing offence and the Brennon's were playing defense. "Hopefully we can prove that they are lying and this will go to trial," he said.
When we arrived at the courthouse it was pretty hectic and parking was scarce. When we finally found a spot, newspaper reporters were all around the car. Smitty had one arm around Mom and the other around me, as he shielded us from the vultures. He managed to get us inside the courthouse, without an incident. Once in the courthouse, District Attorney O'Brian went over his strategy, with all of his character witness's and his other associates.
He then escorted us into the courtroom and showed us where to sit. I sat between mom and JB.
I looked around in awe, at the size of this grand room. It could seat about 200 people, including the balcony. The walls were cherry wood, as well as the railings and furniture. Above the judges thrown was a carving of two lions, guarding the Scales of Justice? The detail and craftsmanship was like that of the Romans, which I had seen in my history books at school. The ceiling was trimmed with fancy cherry moldings, which surrounded ivory colored plaster with gold inlays. In each section of plaster, was a beautiful gold chandelier. "Wow what a place," I said in a loud whisper.
Pops leaned forward to look around JB at me, "It's a waste of our tax dollars Benny. Aint none of this necessary," he said disgustedly.
District Attorney O'Brian and two of his associates took their place at the table on the right inside the railing, as the Jurors took their seats in the box. The defense, which was The Brennon's team wasn't there yet.
The bailiff spoke, "All rise for the Honorable Judge Harvey." Everyone stood up as the old grey haired gentleman came through a door, which was behind his thrown. He wore the black cloak of justice, along with reading spectacles, which were only the bottom half of his lenses.
"Thank you, everyone please be seated," said the Judge. "Bailiff, where the hell is the defense and Brennon?" he said with a growl.
"I don't know sir," he said at attention, with both hands behind his back. About then the courtroom doors opened up and in came the Brennon's, talking and joking. In the seats across the courtroom from us sat Billy (who is William Brennon the III) his Grandmother, Ole Man Brennon (who is William Brennon Jr.) Next to him were Sheriff Johnson, his Deputy Joe Bob Warner and several other people who I didn't know. Down at the defense table sat two attorneys and William Brennon Sr. (Big Billy's Grandfather). Rose came in also, but she came over and sat behind us. Billy's dad gave her an awful look.
"Nice ya could make it Bill, were not playing golf today. You show up late in my court again and I'll hold ya in contempt," said the Judge.
"Sorry Bob, that's right golf is tomorrow," said Billy's Grandfather. Some of the courtroom broke out in laughter.
"ORDER!" yelled the Judge, as he slammed his wooden gavel. He pointed to Mr. O'Brian and said "Counselor, give your opening statement."
District Attorney O'Brian stood up and walked over to the Jurors. “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, we are here today to show new evidence of what happened to Johnny Black, on May 30th, 1949. The evidence will prove that he was not a bank robber...He was a victim of a cold-blooded murder.... First I am going to call several character witnesses, to show you what kind of young man Johnny Black was. Then I am going to show you the cover up, that the North County Sheriff's Department and William Brennon Sr., as well as William Brennon Jr. concocted to save face. For twelve years Johnny's family has waited to clear his name and give him some kind of justice.... Justice that's long overdue." He then walked back to his seat and sat down.
After a short pause, The Defense Lawyer stood up and wandered over to the jury. He was a tall man, in his 60's wearing a blue three-piece suit. "Ladies and gentleman of the jury... we have to wonder why after twelve years, that we are looking at this evidence. Evidence that could have been fabricated, or tampered with.... My client is a very well known, successful businessman. He is a pillar of our community, an honest and fair man. You will see that he had nothing to do with the Sheriff's findings. That the shooting of the young lazy rebel was justified. Mr. Brennon was just protecting his life and property. I will show you that in every aspect of the District Attorneys findings, lies reasonable doubt." He then walked back to his chair and sat down.
The first witness called, was Mr. Fenton. JB whispered into my ear and told me he was my dad's varsity baseball coach. Mr. Fenton took the oath and sat down.
Mr. O'Brian approached the witness stand and asked Mr. Fenton, to describe his relationship with Johnny Black.
"Johnny was a joy to have on my championship team. He was out going, well liked and North County's All Star pitcher, the year that he died. I loved that boy; he could have gone pro if the right scout had seen him," said Mr. Fenton, in a sincere manner.
"Did he seem like the young lazy rebel, that Mr. Myers just described?" questioned the District Attorney.
"Absolutely not, he was a nice hard working young man," said Mr. Fenton.
"Thank you Mr. Fenton. Your witness Mr. Myers," said the District Attorney, as he walked back to his seat.
Mr. Myers (the defense lawyer) stood up and slowly walked by the juror’s box. "Mr. Fenton how long were you Johnny Blacks coach?" he asked.
"Three years sir," said Mr. Fenton.
"In that three years, did Johnny ever disobey an orders from you?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Well his second year...I told him to walk Gregg James a big time slugger, for South Ville High. He didn't and it cost us the game," said the coach, looking down at his folded hands.
"So he didn't take your authority seriously?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Well... after I benched him for three games. I told him, in order to play on my team; he had to follow my rules and not his fathers. From then on, we did fine, when I told him to walk someone, he did," explained Mr. Fenton.
The Defense Lawyer then looked at the Jury and said, "Let the record show that Johnny Black did not always obey his father's wishes and was easily led astray by others.... Mr. Fenton, do you still coach at Hammer Mill High?
"No Sir, I do not," replied Mr. Fenton.
"Why is that?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"I was asked to leave," Mr. Fenton said, in kind of a low voice.
The Defense Lawyer held a paper up in front of the Jury. "People, I have here as exhibit A. The request for resignation to Mr. Fenton, from the Hammer Mill High, Board of Education, which read... Mr. Fenton was asked to resign, because of inappropriate relations, with a female student. People of the Jury, this is the kind of man that Johnny Black looked up to. Thank you Mr. Fenton, that will be all" and he returned to his seat.
Next in the hot seat was JB. He took the oath and sat down at the witness stand.
Once again the District Attorney began to ask questions. "JB what kind of brother, was Johnny?"
"He was a great guy, the kind that any brother would look up to. Smart, funny and he always watched out for me," said JB.
"Did he ever talk about robbing a bank?" asked the District Attorney.
"Never," replied JB.
"Anything else, you want to tell us about him?" asked the District Attorney.
"I miss him every single day. My mom missed him so bad, that she took her own life. I hope the truth is found and justice is brought, to the people responsible for my brother's death," said JB, looking straight at William Brennon Sr. "They didn't only take him away from us, his wife and son have had to deal with the loss also."
"Your witness Mr. Myers," said the District Attorney as he returned to his seat.
The Defense Lawyer got up and walked back and forth in front of JB… "Where were you, the night that your brother tried to rob the bank?" he asked. The District Attorney stood up and objected and the Judge made the Defense Lawyer, rephrase the question.
"Where were you on the night of May 30th, 1949? Say…from 7:00 until midnight?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Around 7:00 I was at Betty's Burgers, which used to be down on Highland Drive. Later after the argument between Bill Brennon Jr. and Molly; I took Molly over to the bowling alley on Main Street, to tell Johnny that she was hurt. Johnny was working at the alley, setting pins for some extra money. From then on, I stayed with Molly at Mrs. Tomas's, until later when we found out about Johnny's death," said JB.
"Did you see the altercation between Molly Black and Bill Brennon," asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Yes sir, Molly skated up to Brennon's 49 Ford, to give him his order. When she did, he grabbed her and tried to kiss her. Molly then dumped his tray with three burgers, fries and a shake in his lap. They exchanged a few words and Molly kicked Brennon's car with her skate, leaving big dent in the door. Brennon then got out of the car and started to beat her up. I stepped in and he beat on me, until Betty came out and threatened to hit him with a frying pan. She called the Sheriff's Department, meanwhile Brennon got in his car and left rubber around the parking lot and left," said JB.
"What did Johnny say, when you told him?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Well, he was furious, I mean any man would be... he took Molly and me over to Mrs. Tomas's. He told me to stay with her and tore off after Brennon," explained JB.
"Did he say he was going to kill him?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Yeah probably, but I don't think he would have. He was more than likely just gonna set the record straight. Ya know, work him over like Brennon did Molly and me," said JB. Knowing he probably had said too much.
"Let the record show that Johnny Black, had motive to cause harm, or kill Bill Brennon Jr... Did you finish high school James?" asked the defense Lawyer.
"No sir," replied JB.
"Why not," asked the Defense Lawyer?
"After Johnny's death I just couldn't function. I guess I had a little bout with depression and just couldn't handle school," JB said, kind of shamefully.
"Is it true you took to the bottle, at the age of sixteen?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Yes sir I did, but I've overcome that problem and I'm working on being a better man," JB said, standing his ground.
"That'll be all," said the cocky Defense Lawyer, as he returned to his chair.
Next on the witness stand was Pops. He was already riled about how the Defense Lawyer was twisting everything around and using people's faults to discredit them. Pops took the oath and took a seat. The District Attorney had Pop's tell how much he missed his eldest son and what his life has been like for the last twelve years. Then it was the Defense's turn.
"Mr. Black, what kind of car did your son have?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"He had a 34 Ford Coupe with a stroked and board flathead V8, dual four- barrel carbs, 4 on the floor, with chromed reverse wheels and baby moon hubcaps. She is black, with blue tint flames and she aint for sale," said pops. Chuckles were heard throughout the courtroom.
"Sounds like quite a car for a teenager… How could he afford that?" questioned the Defense Lawyer.
"Perhaps you’re hearing ain’t so good. In 1949, Johnny's car was already 15 years old. It was put together from parts that we salvaged at a junkyard. This car took my boys and me four years to build. It was a project that we enjoyed. Unlike some spoiled brats, that their daddy went out and bought them a brand new Ford," pop's said looking at Big Billy's dad.
"Were you aware, that Johnny had several tickets, for drag racing on Bucksaw Road?" asked the Defense lawyer.
"Yeah, all the guys did it. However, the guys like Johnny, Smitty and that Anderson kid were the only ones that got tickets. That was because they blew the doors off of Sheriff Johnson's son's Oldsmobile and Brennon's new Ford didn't stand a chance," said pops.
"Let the record show that neither Johnny Black nor his father, cared that he broke the law," said the Defense lawyer, in a loud voice aimed at the Jury. "How old was your son, when he married Molly Henderson?" He asked.
"He was 18 years old," pops said getting red faced, because he knew where this was going.
"Did you and your wife approve of this marriage?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"No we did not," answered pops.
"Why was that?" asked the Defense Lawyer
"We didn't want Johnny to be in a mixed marriage," said Pops, in a shameful voice.
"Please explain," asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Molly's grandmother was a colored woman and her grandfather was white. I have nothing against colored people, we just didn't believe in mixing races," explained Pops. It was then that I knew what Mom meant, when she said, "What the hell, now all of a sudden my skin is white enough?" I always thought we were white. We are no darker than Vinnie, who is Italian, or not as dark as Sam, who is Israeli. Heck, Miss Jones tans darker than me, in the summer sun.
"Is that why you didn't acknowledge their marriage, or your grandson?" asked The Defense Lawyer.
"Molly was and is a beautiful woman... The same night she went to the Senior Prom with Bill Brennon Jr., she ran off with Johnny and eloped here in Burrow Springs. My wife and I weren't sure if Benny was Brennon's kid, or Johnny's. Brennon had already fathered a bastard, two years before and his parents were raising him. Either way, we felt that she was the reason that Johnny was killed. JB has kind of secretly kept track of Benny, all of his life. He told me about five years ago, that there was no doubt in his mind, that Benny was his nephew. I was still skeptical about it, until I saw him throw a baseball. I would like Molly and Benny to know that I'm sorry. Sorry that I wasn't there for them, when they needed me," Pops said, with complete sincerity. Mom sat next to me with a tear rolling down her cheek.
The Defense Lawyer paused for a moment... "That will be all," and returned to his seat.
Mom was next on the stand. After taking the oath, the District Attorney questioned Mom, about why she went to the prom with William Brennon Jr.?
"About two days before the prom, my friend Sally Duff and I, were walking through Cross Cut Alley. When we got about half way up the alley, the back door to the bank opened up. Mr. Brennon Sr. grabbed me and pulled me into an office in the back. He told me, that I was to ask his son to the prom and no one was to know about our little meeting. He said that something awful was going to happen to Johnny, if I told anyone. He then tried to fondle and kiss me. I kneed him in the groin and scrambled out the door," Mom explained.
"Objection your Honor, that's just hearsay. It's her word against my clients," protested the Defense Attorney.
"Objection over ruled," said Judge Harvey. "Please continue Mrs. Black."
... While we were at the prom, Bill went to his car to get some liquor. I was having the most awful time fighting off his advances, before he was drunk and knew I was in trouble. Johnny was furious, that I went to the prom with Brennon, instead of him. About 9:30, Johnny showed up at the prom and pulled me outside; while Brennon and his buddies were sneaking a drink in the boy’s room. I told him what had happened to me in the alley. We jumped into his hot rod and he purposed to me. We found a Justice of the Peace and got married that night. We stayed at Mrs. Tomas's, because we knew Johnny's parents wouldn't approve. Mrs. Tomas didn't approve either, but she didn't turn us away. Mrs. Tomas had taken care of me since I was fourteen, after my mother died," Mom said, looking over at me.
"Thank you Mrs. Black," said the District Attorney, as he glanced at the Defense Lawyer, for him to cross-examine
The Defense Lawyer walked up to Mom and spoke in a rather loud and intimidating voice. "Mrs. Black… did anyone else, hear, or see your conversation with Mr. William Brennon Sr.?
"I've already ruled on that counselor, so back off," ordered the Judge.
"Mrs. Black… is it true that most of the boys in your senior class asked you out on a date?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"I had my fair share of suitors," Mom agreed.
"Let the record show, that Mrs. Black, at the time questioned, was a promiscuous flirt and dated many men," said the Defense Lawyer.
"OBJECTION!" yelled the District Attorney, while rising to his feet.
The courtroom was in a loud rumble and Judge Harvey slammed the gavel several times. "Counsel, approach the bench!" said the Judge. Both lawyers approached the bench as the judge reamed them out. "I'm warning you Myers, if you ever try a stunt like that in my courtroom again, you will be behind bars for as long as I'm a judge! Do you understand me!" yelled Judge Harvey.
"Yes Sir, I understand," replied the Defense Lawyer.
"Jurors please disregard the last statement and Myers, apologize to Mrs. Black!" scolded the Judge. The Defense Lawyer apologized to Mom. It didn't make much sense to me, because the Jury, had already heard what the Defense Lawyer wanted them to hear. Words once unleashed, can't just be taken back, not even in a court of law.
"Mrs. Black, are you dating anyone at the present time?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Yes I am," answered mom.
"Would it be Kenny Smitt, your deceased husband’s best friend in high school?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"Yes… I am dating Kenny Smitt," replied Mom. The courtroom buzzed with gossip and the gavel struck once more. The Defense Lawyer was done with Mom and the court recessed for lunch.
Smitty went to the car and brought back a cooler with enough sandwiches and Cokes to feed an army. The District Attorney, his associates, Pops, JB and Rose ate with us. The District Attorney said we were holding on by a thread, but Rose and the new evidence that he had, was going to tip the scales in our favor.
After lunch, Smitty was called to the stand. He said the oath and was seated. The District Attorney started out asking, what kind of friend Johnny Black was?
"He was a good guy. We became friends in grade school, played baseball and football together in high school. A bunch of us guys, used to hang out at Pops service station and throw the ball around and helped wait on customers," said Smitty.
"Your witness," said the District Attorney and returned to his seat.
The Defense Lawyer tried his best, to get under Smitty's skin. Smitty's training in the Marines, kept him cool and focused. "Where were you when Johnny Black died?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"I was in boot camp for the United States Marines, in North Carolina," Smitty replied.
"There were two weeks of school left when Johnny died. Are you telling me you quit school, to join the Marines?" implied the Defense Lawyer.
"No Sir, my grades were excellent. My Enlistment Officer arranged for me to take my finals early, so I could join the Marines on May 1st, Smitty said, looking him right in the eye. The Defense Lawyer looked back at his bench and got a shrug from his assistant. It seemed they didn't have much on Smitty.
"Who holds the mortgage on your diner?" asked the Defense Lawyer.
"The Brennon National Bank, Sir," replied Smitty.
"How many payments are you behind?" asked the Lawyer.
"Two, Sir," answered Smitty.
"If you get behind one more payment, you will lose the house that your girlfriend and her son live in, as well as your diner," smirked the Defense Lawyer.
"Objection your Honor! What do Mr. Smitt’s financial problems, have to do with this proceeding? He's on a fishing expedition!" said the District Attorney.
"Objection over ruled, But you better get to the point soon Mr. Myers," scolded the Judge.
"Are you testifying because you have a grudge against the Brennon's?" said the Defense Lawyer, trying to get Smitty going.
"Ya know, as a matter fact I do have a bone to pick with the Brennon's," said Smitty in a calm and confident manner. "Why do ya suppose they charge me 9% interest on my loan and everyone else in this town pays 3%? However, their little organized crime ring sends Charlie Johnson and his little sidekick Joe Bob, to every business in Hammer Mill, to collect 10% of the till on Saturday and Sunday nights. They often tell us that Betty's Burgers and Hanks Hardware wouldn't have burnt down, if they'd just cooperated," said Smitty. Everyone in the courtroom looked at Joe Bob and Sheriff Johnson. Their faces were serious and mean looking. Their stares didn't scare Smitty none. Yeah, the Defense Lawyer couldn't get under Smitty's skin, but Smitty sure got under Ole Man Brennon's.
"Well, you're under oath Mr. Smitt and If you have no receipt for that 10% than it's your word against theirs," chuckled the Defense Lawyer.
Smitty just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess that's why I bought some fire insurance," he said.
The Defense didn't ask any more questions, for fear of Smitty embarrassing them further. Next on the stand was Rose. When she stood to take the oath, the Defense Lawyer asked to approach the bench. He argued in whispers with the Judge and the District Attorney. The Judge then asked Rose if she was an American citizen. Her answer was no.
"Then let the record show that Rose Morella's testimony cannot be accepted in this court of law. You are excused Mrs. Morella," said the Judge. A big part of the prosecution’s case rested on Rose's account of what had happened. Ole Man Brennon gave her an awful stare, as she returned to her seat behind us.
Next, the District Attorney presented some photographs of the crime scene. He compared his photos, to the ones that were on record with the Sheriff's Department. "I would like to point out, that the Sheriff's photos only show Johnny from the neck up; or with someone standing in front of his body blocking the view of his wounds. The new photos show the full view of the body. Notice that there is not much blood on the floor, where the body is laying. Johnny Black was shot twice in the chest, at close range with a 12-gage shotgun. If he were shot at this scene, there would have been a large amount of blood visible. Also notice in this picture, the weapon lying next to Johnny on the floor. It is a police issued revolver, for this era in the Sheriff's Department. If you look closely in this next picture, Deputy Johnson, (yes folks he was only a Deputy in 1949) has no gun in his holster."
"Objection your Honor! If the District Attorney's office can't come up with the source of these photos, then how can they be considered evidence? This is absurd!" cried the Defense.
"Council in my chambers," ordered the Judge.
While they were in the Judge’s chambers, William Brennon Sr. motioned for Sheriff Johnson and Joe Bob to come to him. He whispered something in the Sheriff's ear and they left the courtroom. After about twenty minutes, the Judge and the two attorneys returned to the courtroom.
"In order for the new photos to be considered as evidence, The District Attorney's Office has until 9:00 tomorrow morning to produce the source. If the photographer refuses to come forward, then the photos are inadmissible. Court is adjourned for today," said the Judge, as he smacked the gavel.
After the trial, the District Attorney put Rose on a Greyhound Bus and sent her to her sisters in Denver. He knew it wouldn't be safe for her, at Brennon's.
It was four thirty when we arrived home, Mom changed to go work at the diner. I stood out on the porch and whistled for Max. Seeing JB and pops were at the courthouse with us, there were only two places he could be. You guessed it, Sam's or Vinnie's. I told Mom I was going to check Sam's and she said she would stop by Vinnie's and meet me at the diner. I hoped on Ole Silver and headed for Sam's.
Sam said," Max came in this morning for a slice of turkey, took a nap next to the cash register and headed down Cross Cut Alley about 10:00."
"Thanks Sam," I said and headed down the alley. As I turned onto Main Street, an ambulance went screaming by. I watched as it went past JB's and turned down towards the old mill. I kept pedaling towards the diner and two fire trucks passed by and turned down the same street. I wonder what's going on. When I got to the diner, Max was sitting on the steeps waiting for me. I gave him a big hug and went inside.
"Mom!" I yelled as I entered the kitchen. She was helping Smitty slice some potatoes to fry. "Something is going on down by the old mill! Can, Max and I go check it out?" I asked.
She hesitated and looked at Smitty. He gave her a shrug and a smile. "Ok... but be careful and don't get in the way," she said.
Max and I coasted past JB's and turned down Hammer Mill Road. The road had a fairly steep downhill grade, about a quarter mile long, which curved to the left. At the bottom of the grade is a long expansion bridge, barely wide enough for two cars. About a hundred yards to the right of the bridge, is a big dam, which once powered the mill. When I got to the bridge, there was a big tow truck backed up to the guardrails. The ambulance attendants were putting a body, covered with a white sheet, into the ambulance. Sheriff Johnson was there, leaning on the railing of the bridge, chewing on his cigar and looking down into the ravine. I rode my bike past slowly and stopped when I got past the fire trucks. Max sat next to me, as I looked over the side of the bridge. Way down at the bottom of the ravine, smashed and smoking, was a car. It was so muddy and smashed up that you couldn't tell the make or model. I watched as the fireman helped the tow truck driver hook up the cable. When they got the car near the top of the ravine, Max and I moved up next to the tow truck, to get a better look. I might not have recognized the car, because of the condition that it was in. However, the Indian hood ornament was intact. My heart sank for I knew that the car belonged to Mr. Foster.
Max and I went back to the diner. Max laid down for a nap and I went inside and told Mom and Smitty the bad news. Smitty told Mom, she better go home and tell Mrs. Tomas. I stayed and did my best to help Smitty, until closing time.
It wasn't until the next day at the hearing, that I found out that Mr. Foster was the photographer that took the pictures at the crime scene. Sheriff Johnson told the Jury and the rest of the courtroom, that Mr. Foster was drunk and went off the road. I'm sure the Jury got the message, if you testified against the Brennon’s; you were as good as dead. It didn't take but a half hour, for the Jury to decide that there wasn't enough evidence to go to trial. When the verdict was read, the Brennon's celebrated. When Ole Man Brennon looked our way with a smile, you could see his front tooth was missing. I wondered if Big Billy was going to be able to protect himself, without Rose.
That night after Mom and Smitty closed the diner, they were going out to Vinnie's for some relaxation.
"Can Max and I go with ya?" I asked.
"Benny, it isn't appropriate for children to be in a bar," explained Mom.
"We aren't gonna be there only an hour or so. Sam and I are going to make a run to the city to get meat and produce, down at the docks. Let him come, aint many people in there on a Wednesday night, “suggested Smitty. Mom finally agreed and we walked to Vinnie’s.
Max led the way and went straight to the barkeep, to get his ears scratched. Smitty went to the bar and ordered a beer, a slow gin fizz and a Coke, while mom and I sat at a table. I dug into my pocket for a dime, to play the jukebox. My first pick was a new one by the Shirelles "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow". When Smitty got back with the drinks, Mom and him kind of swayed to the song, in the dim neon light. It wasn't long after that when Ole Man Brennon showed up drunk.
"You aren't welcome here," Vinnie said, when Brennon stumbled in the door.
"Well...Well...Well, yer making so much money in here that ya don't need mine," slurred Brennon. "Thought I'd let ya know, as of this weekend, my tariff has gone up to 15%. You can thank your good friend Smitty." He stumbled back out the door, got in his car and squealed away down the street.
A few minutes later Sam showed up. Max happily greeted him at the door. Sam sat down and had a beer with Smitty. Vinnie came over and the three business owners discussed the new tariff Brennon and his associates were going to enforce. It was plain to see that Brennon had pushed them and the other businesses in this town, too far. After Sam finished his beer, he and Smitty headed for the city to get their meat and produce. It was about a six-hour trip, including loading the truck. Mom, Max and I went home and went to bed.
The next morning after breakfast Max and I headed for JB's. When we got to Cross Cut Alley, Sam and a crowd of people were looking down the alley. Joe Bob Warner was there in his deputy's uniform and wouldn't let anybody enter. People were asking him questions, but Joe Bob kept tight lipped.
"What's going on?" I asked Sam.
"Not sure Benny," Sam replied. You could see several police officers go in and out of the door that led to Old Man Brennon's office. I got my bike rolling and whistled to Max. We sped down the street and turned down Pine Ave. We then took a left past the school, past JB's and continued up Main Street, to the front of the Brennon National Bank. There was a deputy, which was supposed to be watching that end of the alley. He was busy trying to keep people from entering the alley. While he was occupied, I cupped my hands to the front window of the bank and looked in. I could see camera flashes coming from the back of the bank.
"Get away from that window kid!" yelled the deputy.
I stepped away from the window and picked my bike up off the sidewalk. A big black hearse pulled up next to the parked Sheriff's car and started to back into the alley. The crowd separated and the hearse continued backwards, up the narrow drive. I hopped on my bike, whistled to Max and headed back down Main Street, to JB's. I jumped off my bike and left it in a heap in front of the station door, then ran in to tell Pop's and JB what I'd seen.
They looked at each other. Pops called Vinnie and JB limped outside and looked up the street towards the bank. I heard Pops tell Vinnie to call Sam and that he would call Smitty.
"Thanks for letting us know Benny. I think for now you better go to the diner and stay with your mom until this blows over," said Pops.
Max and I left and headed back up Main Street. As I coasted past the bank, the hearse was pulling out. Sheriff Johnson was talking to his deputies and gave me a mean glance. I kept on coasting towards the diner, with Max on my tail.
At the diner, Smitty coached me, as I made myself a ham and cheese omelet. I took it out to my booth and sat down while Mom poured me chocolate milk. The diner started filling up with customers and there was a loud buzz about what was going on at the bank. It seems that when one of the tellers arrived to the bank this morning; she found Ole Man Brennon with his head lying on his desk, sporting a bullet hole right between the eyes. A few minutes later, Sheriff Johnson and three deputies came through the door of the diner. Smitty was at the counter pouring a cup of coffee.
"Cuff him!" said the sheriff, looking at Smitty. Joe Bob walked up to Smitty with his handcuffs. Smitty drove him over the counter and laid him out cold, with one punch. I had never seen anyone get hit that hard in my life. The sheriff then pulled his weapon, as well as the other deputies.
"Go ahead Nigger, give me an excuse to blow your brains out!" said the sheriff. (What's that? I never mentioned that Smitty was a black man! ... Would it have made a difference? ... In 1961, you can bet your bottom dollar it made a difference!) The sheriff told Smitty he was under arrest for the murder of William Brennon Jr. and read him his rights. The two remaining deputies put the cuffs on Smitty. They took him to the sheriff's car and shoved him in the back seat. Then they had to come back into the diner and carry out Joe Bob.
Mom was crying, as she called Pops. Shortly after that, Mrs. Tomas and some girls from the church arrived and helped Mom run the diner. Vinnie sent Barb down to help also. Mom had me run the cash register, seeing I was familiar with that at the service station. Later Sam showed up and said, all the businesses in town were putting money together to get Smitty a lawyer. It was the first time I'd seen this town pull together for anything.
That night I lay in bed with Max next to me. I couldn't get to sleep, thinking about everything that had happened that day. How come they accused Smitty? There were plenty of other people who hated Old Man Brennon. I mean stop and think about it, what about Pops, Brennon might have been the one who shot his son. We don't know, maybe William Brennon Sr. is covering up for his son. There's JB, Brennon might have killed his brother. How about Betty or Hank? Brennon burnt their places to the ground. Maybe Sam, Vinnie, or any of the other business owners; heck Mom and I probably had as good of motive as anybody. Oh Yeah!... What about Billy? ... Man I forgot all about Billy.
The next morning I got up early and helped Mom get ready at the diner. Mrs. Tomas and some more church ladies, showed up to help again also.
I called JB, "Hey JB, I'm gonna have to help Mom run the diner," I explained.
"That's alright Benny, I understand. I'll stop by later, by the way, Max is down here if you're looking for him? See ya later," said JB and he hung up. When I stepped out of the phone booth, I noticed Billy was seated at my regular booth. Many of the customers were staring at him.
I walked over to the counter, drew a couple of Cokes from the fountain and went and sat next to Billy.
"Hey, sorry to hear about your dad," I said to my friend.
He sat there for a few seconds without any expression and replied, "Well... it was bound to happen sooner or later." I got up and cashed out a customer and returned to the booth. Mom came out of the kitchen, saw Billy and walked over and rubbed his shoulder. She didn't say anything, she didn't have to, her touch said it all.
"I hear they came and took Smitty," Billy said.
"Yeah, but ya know he didn't do it. He was at the docks with Sam that night," I explained.
"Rumor has it, he knocked Joe Bob completely out," Billy said with half a grin.
"Oh Yeah! I was sitting right here when he did it.... What are you going to do now Billy? ... I mean, now that your dad and Rose aren't here, “I asked.
"Gram came to stay with me at the house. Gramps has gone off on a drinking binge," said Billy. We sat there for a while not talking. Billy started to pay for the Coke.
"Don't worry about it, I got it," I said. He thanked me and he left.
That night while we were closing up Sheriff Johnson and Joe Bob showed up. Joe Bob had his nose all taped up and looked like a raccoon with two black eyes.
"Where's your mom, Boy?" asked the sheriff.
I'll get her," I said and went to the kitchen and brought her back.
"What do ya want?" she asked sharply.
"Were here to collect our 15%, today is Saturday," the sheriff said with arrogance. Mom counted up the till and threw $45 on the counter and stormed back to the kitchen. The Sheriff and Joe Bob left.
About fifteen minutes later JB came in and sat at the counter.
"Max is out there snoozing by your bike," he chuckled.
I told him about our little visit from the sheriff. He made a disgusted face and went to the phone booth. After he made a few calls, he came back out and went into the kitchen to talk to mom.
"Vinnie says, ya did the right thing for now. Just keep paying them until you hear otherwise," JB said. He gave mom a half hug and me a weak slug in the shoulder as he limped out the door.
The next day, was Old Man Brennon's funereal. Mom said I should go for Billy's sake. She said Barb knew how to work the cash register.
Max and I were walking up Grape Vine Hill to the cemetery, when the big black hearse and a blue 1961 Cadillac convertible passed by. I watched, as the brake lights came on the blue Cadillac, and then the reverse lights lit up. The car backed up next to us and the electric tinted window came down. It was Billy and his Grandma.
"Please get in," she insisted. I looked at Max and back at her. "It's only a car honey, he can ride too. Billy stepped out of the passenger side, tipped the seat forward to let Max and I in the back seat.
Boy, is Gramps gonna have a fit when he finds out you had a dog in this car," snickered Billy.
"Let’s get something straight, this is my car sonny," she said smiling at Billy, and we proceeded on to the cemetery.
When we arrived at the gravesite, the preacher was all ready there. The hearse driver, an assistant and the gravedigger helped Billy and I get the casket to the grave. Old Man Brennon was pretty heavy, so we had to stop and rest a couple of times. Even the preacher ended up helping. While the preacher read from his bible, I wondered why Old Man Brennon's friends, Sheriff Johnson and Joe Bob weren't there.
Billy didn't shed a tear, but his grandma was sobbing. Billy just stared with no expression at the casket. I went over to his grandma, hugged and consoled her while Max laid at her feet. When the preacher was done we, returned to the car.
"Would you like to join us at the house for some refreshment?" asked Mrs. Brennon politely. I hesitated ... "We would be honored," she insisted.
"The church ladies brought lots of food," added Billy.
"Sure," I said. It was apparent they wanted my company.
Billy's house was huge, with the finest carpets and the richest furnishings. Mrs. Brennon brought two maids with her to the estate, Jenny and Amber. They waited on us like we were kings and then Mrs. Brennon asked them to join us. There was so much food that I felt guilty. Mrs. Brennon fixed Max a plate and let him eat in the kitchen.
"Just a warning, if you feed that mooch he'll be here every day," I said. They all laughed and we had a grand time. We were all relaxing in the parlor with our tummies bursting, when I started to look at the pictures on the wall. There were pictures of Mr. Brennon Sr. and his son when he was a boy, pictures of them deep sea fishing, elk hunting, golfing and partying. Old Man Brennon looked happy, nothing like I remembered him.
"He wasn't always the awful person that everybody knows," she said looking over my shoulder. "I guess I just spoiled him so much that he turned greedy and mean." I was surprised to hear her say that about her son.
It was getting late and I knew I should be at the diner helping Mom. Max and I said our good-byes; Billy and Mrs. Brennon thanked us for coming. Mrs. Brennon had one of the girls fix Max a snack for later. She bent down and told Max “Stop by and see me," and he licked her cheek.
We got to the diner about five, Max took a nap and I helped Mom and the girls till closing time. The sheriff and his deputy showed up for their cut. Mom counted the till and gave them 15 bucks.
"What the Hell?" said the sheriff, implying that Mom was cheating him.
"Slow day sheriff," she said and walked back into the kitchen. They walked out the door, the Sheriff was mumbling to himself with his cigar in his mouth.
Mom called Sam and asked for some advice on ordering supplies, while I helped Mrs. Tomas mop the diner floor. It was pretty late, by the time we got home.
The next day, I was clearing a booth at lunchtime. Through the window I saw the blue 61 Caddy pull up in front of the diner. It sat there for a few minutes… Finally the passenger door opened and out stepped Smitty. I yelled to Mom and she met Smitty at the door with a big hug and a kiss. She was balling her eyes out, as the whole diner cheered. Smitty called every business in town and thanked them for their help. But deep down, he knew he would still be in jail if it weren't for Billy.
Later, Smitty told us that this morning, three guards came to his cell and told him he had a visitor. They led him to a room and sat him at a table still cuffed and shackled. In walked Mrs. Brennon and her attorney. Mrs. Brennon asked Smitty, if he had killed her son?
Smitty replied, No Ma'am.
She then smiled and said, my grandson Billy said you wouldn't have shot him; you would have beaten him to death. She then turned to her attorney and told him to contact the judge and see if we can make bail. A couple hours later they let Smitty go.
Things got back to normal. About two weeks down the road, the DA's office set up a sting at the diner. Plain-clothes officers, dressed like a bus driver, a businessman and truck driver sat at different places in the diner. When Sheriff Johnson and Joe Bob Warner came for their 15% the Fed's cuffed them and took them away for extortion and abuse of public authority. Pops and Vinnie had been working with District Attorney O'Brian on this since the hearing.
Billy's Grandma got him some tutors and he no longer went to our school. His grandfather died about two months later from the bottle. (Guess it was his liver or something.) Billy was being groomed to take over the family business. Meanwhile, Mr. Hobbs, a graduate from Harvard, was managing the bank for Mrs. Brennon. Didn't see much of Billy during the week, but we got together on the weekends.
I kept working at JB's and going to school. Funny thing… English was my hardest class, but I really liked the idea of being a reporter.
When I was in 9th grade, President Kennedy was assassinated, and the war in Vietnam was escalating. However, the big news in our town was, Billy becoming President of The Brennon National Bank, at the age of 18. Mr. Hobbs stayed on as Vice President. Billy's first decision as President was to change the image of his business. He personally went to Smitty and lowered his interest rate, to the same as everyone else's. He even reimbursed him for the overpayment that he had been charged by Old Man Brennon, since 1952. He helped JB finance a new tow truck and update his service station. He went to Sam and helped him to relocate his store on Main Street and increased his sales by 43%. All over town things were happening, because Billy knew what needed to be done. He became a silent partner in several business ventures, which made him and others prosperous.
Three years later, in 1966, I graduated from Hammer Mill High. I was good at baseball, but I never achieved the level that my dad had. By now there were 200,000 troops in Vietnam and a story to tell. An enlistment officer for the United States Army talked with me after graduation. He was able to enlist me as a reporter. After boot camp, I headed for Vietnam. I reported from operation Cedar Falls in the Iron Triangle, to War Zone C, north of Saigon. Some of my reports made it to Walter Cronkite. Reporting the casualties of war took its toll on me and when my tour was up, I was lucky to come home. On the plane I reread a letter that I had received from Mom, about a month earlier. The letter said that Mrs. Tomas had died. Mom said she left her 55 Chevy to me in her will. One of her boys had brought it over and parked it next to the house. I thought of how nice she was to me and how much I loved her. I chuckled to myself…” wonder if she ever finished that darn sweater?” The plane landed at McGuire Air Force Base and I took a Taxi to Hammer Mill. I had the Cab Driver let me off at JB's. He was the one that I had left Max with. As I walked to the door of the station, I could see Max lying next to the counter. I gave him a few short whistles and his ears perked up. He looked my way, ran and jumped up on me, licking my face and wagging his tail. His muzzle was full of grey, but for the most part, he was good ole Max.
"Good to see ya kid," said JB, limping over to shake my hand. We continued some small talk and I told him, I had better work my way up the street. As I started to go Max gave me a whine. He looked at JB and back at me as if to ask, "Can I go?"
"You can go," JB told him. He bent down so Max could lick his face and told him he was a good boy.
Max and I walked up Main Street. When we got to the bank, Max walked up to the door as if to go in.
"I don't think you are allowed to go in there Max," I told him. About then a woman walked out and Max dashed into the bank. I shook my head and followed him. He would walk a bit and turn to see if I was still following him. He led me to the office, in the back of the bank. Before I reached the open door I could hear, "Hey Max, you ole mooch, how ya doing?" Sure enough it was Billy's office.
I stood in the doorway unnoticed and watched as Billy and Max carried on. Then I said in a tough voice..."Big Billy." Billy looked up with a big smile.
"Sissy Boy," he said reaching out a hand. As he clasped my hand, he pulled me close and gave me a big bear hug. He really looked good with a big smile, something he never did much as a kid. We talked a while and Barb (Vinnie’s daughter) came to the door. She had a little boy, about two years old, in her arms.
"Hi Benny," she said looking at me. She handed the toddler to Billy and gave Billy a kiss on the cheek. "See ya about six for supper, Love ya Honey," and she disappeared out the door.
"What the heck?" I said with a frown. "I leave ya alone for a few years and ya got a wife and a kid already!"
"Some of us got it all," smiled Billy. He introduced me to Brandon, his son. You could tell by the way he held and snuggled him, that the chain of abuse had been broken. "Brandon comes here about this time every day and plays in my office while I work. Funny thing is, Max comes here every day about this time, to play with Brandon. Hey, what do ya say we go up to Vinnie’s and I buy ya a drink? I need a break anyway."
"How about ya meet me there in an hour?" I haven't seen Mom and Smitty yet," I said. We agreed and Max and I left for the diner.
At the diner, Mom greeted me with tears and hugs. Smitty shook my hand and I got another bear hug. Mom escorted me to my booth. She even let Max come in and lay under the table next to me. While mom and I caught up on news, Smitty made me a nice steak and fries and joined us for a few minutes. I told Mom I was supposed to meet Billy at Vinnie’s for a drink and Max and I would see her at the house later. We then went up the street to Vinnie’s.
At Vinnie's, Max made his rounds, while Mr. Anderson welcomed me home. About then Billy and Brandon came through the door. Brandon made a beeline for grandpa Vinnie, as Billy sat at the bar.
"Hey, Benny what would ya like?" asked Vinnie.
"Balentine beer please," I said, setting my duffel bag in the corner.
"How about you Billy?" asked Vinnie.
"The usual please," replied Billy. Vinnie brought back my beer and a cup of coffee for Billy. I gave a glance at the coffee and back at the beer. Billy chuckled and pointed at my beer. "I figured out that was the root of my family's problems, so I stay away from it." I gave him a nod and told him I understood.
Max followed Brandon everywhere, like he used to do to me. After a few minutes of catching up, a beautiful girl came in and walked behind the bar. It was Cindy (Barbs sister who graduated with me).
"Hey Soldier Boy," she said in a sexy voice.
"Hi Cindy," I said, as I felt my heart race.
"Maybe ya can get that 55 Chevy running and take me to the drive-in show tonight," she said.
"We have a drive-in?" I asked, looking at Billy
"Oh Yeah, Betty and I are partners on it. She runs it and owns 60% and I own 40%," said Billy. "It's been a good investment!" I finished my beer and thanked Billy.
"Leaven so soon Soldier Boy?" asked Cindy.
"Gotta’’ see if I can get that ole 55 running, I might have a date," I said as I gave her a wink.
"I'll be right here and I expect ya at seven-thirty," she said, with a smile that would melt your heart. I whistled to Max, grabbed my duffel bag and headed for home.
As I walked with Max, I thought about what a great friend he had become. His unprejudiced love and personality had broken many barriers for me, while growing up. Because of him, grownups talked to me, bullies left me alone, girls knew who I was; and no matter what he loved and protected me.
When we reached the house, I sat on the porch and took it all in. It seemed like I had been gone for a million years. After a while I walked over to the 55 Chevy. She was pretty dusty and the front passenger side tire was flat. I went in the house to find the keys. The house was different; we had a TV, a phone, fresh paint, new carpets and curtains. Billy's new way of business had changed a lot of people's lives here in Hammer Mill. I found the keys and returned to the Chevy. I opened up the trunk and removed the spare tire. There…under the spare was a .38 cal. Pistol, wrapped up in a linen handkerchief… My heart almost stopped beating. The guilt Mrs. Tomas had when Smitty was arrested, must have been tremendous. This was her way of letting me know what had happened. She told me she adored my dad, she loved mom and me and she apparently had feelings for Mr. Foster… I changed the tire, poured a little gas in the carburetor and got the Chevy running. I got out the garden hose, cleaned the dust off and made her shine. Before I went to pick up Cindy, Max and I took a drive down Hammer Mill Road. I stopped in the middle of the long expansion bridge… I turned the car off, got out, walked to the railing and threw the .38 into the river below.
I think Billy always knew what had happened to my dad… Now I know what had happened to his. However… until today, I never told anyone.
Since the 60's, we have come a long way with technology. We have computers, GPS systems and even cars that will parallel park themselves. However, as a society we are not so advanced. We still battle alcoholism, racism, discrimination, drug addiction, child abuse, organized crime, and war.
From 1964-1975, 58,200 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam. From March 2003 until March 2006 America has lost 2,343 soldiers and 17,269 wounded from a war in Iraq. A war with no end in sight. We have also lost 279 soldiers in Afghanistan.
In the 60's it was marijuana, heroin and cocaine; now it’s marijuana, heroin, cocaine, crack, crystal meth and ecstasy.
Child abuse was probably kept out of the media more so in the 60's, however it did exist. Now we seem to have children abducted, abused, sold as slaves, raped and murdered on a regular basis.
Racism still exists, it's still a touchy subject and it's still wrong! Discrimination against race, religion, sex and age still plague our society.
As for organized crime, there will always be someone, who is the bully and takes advantage of others.