BOYS WILL BE BOYS

By Sam Douglas


Ed Ferguson, the only guard the bank had had in its forty-year history, was trying to lock the door for the day when the four men forced their way in. They looked like extras in a bad Ninja movie. They all wore black jeans, black gloves, and black pullovers. They also wore different colored ski masks. The man in the blue ski mask grabbed Ed's gun as he fumbled to unholster it and then pushed Ed into the bank toward the counter. Mrs. McGillicuddy, the head teller who had been at the bank as long as Ed, saw the men force their way in. "You can't come in," she said. “We're closed." Then she saw the ski masks and the gun pointed at her by the man in the black ski mask, and she fainted on the spot. It became quickly apparent that the men were using the colors of their ski masks for identification. The one in the black mask appeared to be the leader. "Watch the door, Blue," he said to the man in the blue ski mask.

"Got it, Black" said Blue.

Then the men started barking orders for the people in the bank to raise their hands and back away from the counter. Mr. Jenkins, the bank manager, Tom Morgan, the loan officer, and Margaret Adams-Cromwell, the junior teller, quickly raised their hands and backed up. Morgan gasped audibly. Sweat broke out on his forehead and he began shaking uncontrollably. Margaret, the newest member of the bank and a newlywed, was trembling, too. Her eyes were closed and her lips moved rapidly in a silent prayer. "Watch 'em," said Black to the men in the red and green masks. Then he came around the counter and tossed a cloth bag to Jenkins. "Put all the money in here," he said. Jenkins began to empty the drawers at the teller stations. "We're gonna get the stuff in the vault, too," said Black.

As Jenkins finished emptying the drawers and headed for the vault followed closely by Black, suddenly the man in the green ski mask began to gasp and shake his head. "What's wrong, Green?" asked Black. "What the hell is wrong?"

Green shook his head violently and ripped off his mask. " I can't breathe, I can't breathe," he said and bent over with his hands on his knees.

"Get him out of here," shouted Black, "quick." He ran around the counter toward the front door leaving Jenkins at the entrance to the vault with the bag still in his hands.

The man in the red ski mask grabbed Green by his arm and dragged him out the door. Blue followed them and Black backed out last waving his gun at the bank employees. After he left, Ed Ferguson ran to the door and saw the men jump into a late model Chevy and drive away. He turned back to the other employees, "Was that Bobby Daniels?" he asked.

***


“Why did you do that, Bobby? Why in the hell did you do that?”

Bobby Daniels stared at his older brother. “I couldn’t help it, Johnny," he said. I couldn’t breathe. I was smothering. I was dying. I had to get some air.” And, in fact, he was still panting and gasping for air. Sweat poured down his face, which was red and distorted. He shook his head violently and said, "I'm sorry, Johnny, but I really couldn't help myself. I really thought I was dying."

“You shouldn’t have pulled off your mask, little brother. There’s people in that bank that know you. Hell, Daddy used to do all his banking there. Somebody’s gonna tell ‘em it was you.”

“I’m sorry, Johnny, I'm really sorry. What’re we gonna do now?”

Johnny frowned at his younger brother. “Boy, you get me in more trouble than you’re worth,” he said drily. “We’ll just have to come up with such a great alibi that the cops’ll think those folks in the bank are wrong.”

“Yeah,” said Bobby, “I got a couple of girls that will swear to anything I tell them.”

“You get more than one girl involved in an alibi and you automatically got problems,” said Johnny. “We need to go somewhere we can think and work this thing out.” He turned to Jake, the Snake, Vincent who was driving. “Jake, let’s go over to the state park.” Jake had gotten the car, the getaway car for the bank job Bobby had just screwed up. Jake said the car wouldn’t be missed before Monday, maybe not even then if he could sneak it back in to where he got it. That was part of the plan for the job. They’d planned it down to the last detail, and all that had gone into the toilet when Bobby pulled off his ski mask inside the bank.

“Don’t go too fast, no quick starts or stops, stay on the pavement,” Johnny said to Jake. “Drive to the pavilions at the back of the park. Nobody goes there even during the daylight this time of year, much less this time of night.”

The other guy, sitting up front with Jake, was Bo Linsky. He was Jake’s friend, and Jake brought him in on the job. He had done well, no hurry, no excitement, no panic. Cool and efficient, he would probably make a good career criminal.

Unfortunately, Bobby’s panic had kept everyone else from doing a good job. As soon as he pulled off his ski mask, the emphasis shifted from getting the money to getting out before anybody saw Bobby. They didn’t get any money. And worse, Johnny was sure they didn’t get out before anybody saw Bobby. After they left the bank, they just drove as far away as Johnny thought they could safely go in case anyone was looking for them already. Then they pulled off the road into the woods to wait for dark.

Jake pulled up to one of the park’s pavilions. “Not too far, stay on the pavement,” Johnny cautioned Jake. Then to the group, “Let’s go sit at the table and see what we can figure out.”

They sat around the picnic table, staring off into the gloom of the surrounding forest. “Maybe I can get just one of my girls to swear where I was today,” said Bobby.

“Well, that’s a possibility,” said Johnny. “But I think the cops are gonna automatically tie me and Jake to you and Bo to Jake so we gotta come up with something airtight for all of us.”

“I don’t know, Johnny. If my alibi is so good they can’t tie it to me, then they can’t tie it to you. After all, I’m the only one the people in the bank saw.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Johnny nodded at his brother. He didn't sound convinced. He stared off into the distance apparently lost in thought. After a long time in which nobody spoke, Johnny asked Bobby, “You still got your gun? We’re gonna need to get rid of it.”

Bobby took the silver 32-caliber revolver from his pocket and handed it to Johnny. Johnny turned the cylinder to make sure there was a round under the hammer. Then he placed the barrel against Bobby’s right temple and pulled the trigger. The gun made a small popping noise, Bobby didn’t make a sound. His head dropped to the picnic table, and he was still.

"Omigod," said Jake as both he and Bo snapped upright, staring first at Bobby and then at Johnny. They looked wide-eyed at Johnny wondering what he might do next. After they decided that he probably was not going to shoot them, too, Jake asked, “Man, why’d you wanna do that all of a sudden?”

Johnny sat staring at Bobby’s head on the table. The odor of gunsmoke still hung in the air and blood was pooling around Bobby's hair. “I didn’t want to do it,” he said slowly. He looked up at Jake, “And it wasn’t all that sudden. I been trying to figure out what would be the best thing to do ever since he pulled off his mask back there in the bank. I just couldn’t figure out anything else to do. I just don’t know what I’m gonna tell my mom and pop. He was their baby. This is gonna kill them.”

“Yeah, Man,” Bo finally spoke up. “I don’t know how you could do that to your own brother.”

“They wasn’t no other way out,” Johnny shook his head slowly as he spoke. “He was caught the second he pulled his mask off. They was people in that bank that knew him. I know some of them saw him. He was caught, so he’s better off now anyway. He’s my brother and I love him; but I knew he can’t hold out when they start to pressuring him. He’d told on all of us. We’d all been caught. I just done what was best for the whole group. But I still don’t know what I’m gonna tell my mom and pop.”

Johnny looked down at his hands. He was still wearing the gloves for the job. They all were. They’d agreed they’d keep them on until they were done with everything, so there would be no inadvertent fingerprints left anywhere. But now he picked up Bobby’s right hand from the table and pulled the glove off. He reached over the body and pulled the left glove off, too. Then he wrapped the fingers of Bobby’s right hand around the butt of the pistol, put Bobby’s index finger on the trigger, raised Bobby’s arm straight up and squeezed the trigger, firing a round into the sky. Then he lay the hand back on the table with the gun still in it.

“I gotta make it look like Bobby killed hisself. He knew they was gonna catch him, so he killed hisself.” Johnny looked at Jake and Bo, “What else do I need to do?”

Bo said, “They’s two rounds fired out of that gun. Ain’t that gonna look funny? Think you ought to put one back?”

Johnny thought a second, “Naw. I don’t think so. I don’t want to handle that gun anymore than I have to. I believe they’ll just think he fired a test round into the air before he shot hisself. I think I read somewhere that people who shoot themselves outside do that a lot.”

Jake asked, “You just gonna leave him here?”

“I don’t wanna move him. I think anything we do has a risk of leaving clues. I just wanna keep it as simple as possible.”

“Yeah, but ain’t they gonna wonder how he got here?” persisted Jake.

“They can wonder. Probably his accomplices, whoever they are, dropped him off here. We just got to be sure we can’t be tied to him today.”

“Nobody saw all of us together before the bank. That was in the plan,” Bo said. “But you left home with him. Where’d your folks think you were going?”

“We just told them we was going out. I’ll tell them I dropped him outside Rasty’s. A lot of young people hang out there. They oughta believe he’d go there.”

“But nobody at Rasty’s is gonna remember him today,” said Jake.

“Hell, I don’t know where he went after I dropped him off. Maybe it was just a meeting place with his accomplices. Maybe they picked him up there or around the corner or somewhere.”

The three men sat around the table all staring down at Bobby as the blood that had surrounded his head began to thicken and darken. "I don't feel real good talking about this with him laying there dead," said Jake, "Can't we go someplace else to figure this out?"

"No, no," said Johnny. "I wanna get this settled fore anything else comes up to screw it up. We gotta do it here and now."

“Okay," said Bo, "so how about us?” “We gotta be each other’s alibis, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” said Johnny. “We gotta say I hooked up with you guys after I dropped Bobby off and we spent the rest of the day together - what - playing cards, shooting hoops, fishing, hunting - what?” The original plan had called for them to split up after the bank and establish four different alibis that would make it hard to tie them together. When Bobby pulled his mask off, he threw the whole plan off.

“Okay,” said Bo, “let’s say we were playing cards, poker. There are some people who know we do that sometimes.”

“Where’d we play?” asked Johnny.

“Jake’s place,” said Bo. “There’s less chance anybody would have seen us there.”

“I don’t know,” said Jake, “what if somebody came by there today looking for me. They’d know there was nobody there, they’d know we wasn’t playing cards there. They’d know there was no cars there, neither.”

“Well, it was a nice day,” said Bo, “so let’s just say we went out to the river and played cards and drank beer all afternoon.”

“That might work,” agreed Johnny. “Nobody much goes out there that could say we weren’t there. Where’d we get the beer?”

“I brought it,” said Jake. “I had a case at the house that I was holding for an occasion.”

“What kind of beer was it?”

“Bud, what else?”

“What’d we do with the empties?”

“Put ‘em back in the case and threw ‘em in a dumpster on the way back.”

“Whose car did we take?”

“I think we better say we met out there to cover all the cars. If we say we took one car, they’re gonna ask about the others.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. How’d the poker go? Who won?”

“Hell, I did,” said Jake. “I always win.”

“How much?” asked Bo.

“Last time we played, I won $12.50. Probably would be safer if we used those numbers, real numbers we can remember.”

“Yeah, I lost five bucks,” said Bo. “How about you, Johnny?”

“I think I won a couple bucks. We had Cougar Williams and One-Eye Johnson playing, too. I think they both lost a little. I think it would be a good idea to use real numbers. There would be less chance we’d get them screwed up. What else do we need to cover?”

“I don’t know,” said Jake. “Me and Bo never saw Bobby today. We just went out to the river to meet you and play cards and drink beer.”

“Yeah, we gotta say we agreed on it earlier, yesterday, okay?” said Johnny.

“Why didn’t we tell anybody else we was gonna do that? They gonna ask folks if we told them.”

“We didn’t want nobody else along. We just wanted best buddies together,” said Bo.

Johnny wondered if this might be a weakness in their story. He never considered Bo his best buddy, and he didn’t think Bo considered him his best buddy. But he didn’t want to question this now. It might cause friction they didn’t need. “What did we do before we went to the river?” he asked.

“I think we can just tell them what we really did before we met for the bank,” said Jake. “I didn’t do nothing, just hung around the house, nothing wrong with that.” He gave Bo a quizzical look.

“Me neither,” said Bo. “I just hung around the house.”

“What else?” asked Johnny, raising his palms with the question.

Jake shrugged his shoulders, Bo shook his head.

“Okay, that’s it then,” said Johnny. “Let’s get out of here.”

Without a backward glance, they got into the getaway car and drove away, leaving Bobby where he lay.

***


“Bobby, is that you?”

“No, Mama, it’s me.”

“Oh, Johnny. Is Bobby with you?”

“No, Ma’am. I ain’t seen him since I dropped him off at Rasty’s this afternoon.”

“Oh, I thought you was going somewheres together.”

“Naw, he just said he wanted to go to Rasty’s. I thought maybe he was meeting somebody there. I just dropped him off outside and went on to meet Jake and Bo.”

Well, Bobby ain’t back yet, and I’m beginning to get worried.”

“You wasn’t worried about me?”

“Well, yeah, but I thought you two was together. Now I know you ain’t, I’m really worried about Bobby.”

Geez, Johnny thought, if she’s this worried now, how's she gonna be when she finds out what really happened to her little boy? Aloud, he said, “He’s probably with some of them kids down at Rasty’s, just having fun. Probably just forgot the time.”

“Well, it’s some of them kids at Rasty’s that makes me worry. I think somebody oughta go down there and check on him. Your daddy’s not here or I’d send him. Why don’t you go down there and see if Bobby’s okay?”

“I don’t know why you worry about that boy so much. I don’t think you ever worried about me like that.”

“Well, you was different. I didn’t have to worry about you like I have to worry about Bobby.”

“Well, Mama, did you ever stop to think the difference might just be in your own head? Did you ever stop to think it might just be that you love Bobby a little more than you ever loved me?”

“We sure ain’t got no time for foolishness like that right now. We need to go check on Bobby. Are you going or am I gonna have to go myself?”

“I’m going, but I think you ought to think about what I said a little bit,” Johnny walked out the front door to his car.

He didn’t see any sense in going to Rasty’s. He knew Bobby wasn’t there. It would probably be just as good to go park somewhere for a little while and then go home and tell Mama he couldn’t find Bobby. He drove down the alley with his lights off until he came to the school bus access road. Then he followed that to the back of the old high school he’d gone to until he dropped out in tenth grade. It was a middle school now, but that hadn’t changed its outward appearance. All the old memories were still there.

He parked on the other side of the football field and stared at the building which had been such a source of frustration for him. He’d spent three years there, and he had never fit in very well. There were some fun times, and there were a few girls that hung around him just because he didn’t fit in. But the work and the rules and the teachers and the principals finally made it not worthwhile to keep coming here, so he quit when he was 16 and stayed home. His folks didn’t like that too well, they preferred having him out of the house. But it wasn’t worth a big fight to them; so, except for an occasional hint that he should get a job, they let it go.

He stared into the darkness and remembered that Bobby had also tried to follow his lead when he became 16. Bobby told him that he’d gone to their father, always safer than going to Mama, and told him he was quitting school. “I don’t think your mama’s gonna like that too well,” Daddy said.

“But Johnny quit,” Bobby protested. “Nobody stopped him from quitting.”

Johnny always thought Bobby relished the next line of the story a little too much in the retelling. After what he probably considered an appropriate level of resistance to revealing an unpleasant truth, Bobby had told him that Daddy said, “You gotta realize, Son, your mama looks differently at you and Johnny. Johnny can do some things she don’t care about, but it ain’t the same with you. She wants you to have it better than the rest of us. She cares about you too much to let you do some of the stuff Johnny does.”

Bobby let it drop after that. He finished high school, first in their family to do that, just last year. Ever since then, he’d been trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. I guess he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, thought Johnny as he started the car back up and headed back toward the house.

Johnny followed the streets this time, not the alley; and when he turned onto his street, he saw the police car parked in front of his house, headlights on but no flashing lights. As he pulled up behind it and turned off his engine, he said, “Showtime,” softly to himself and stepped out. Mama was on the front porch, Daddy was back, too. They were talking to Marty MacPherson, the deputy sheriff who mostly worked this part of town. Marty had been in Johnny’s high school class. Of course, he’d fit right in and had stayed to graduate. He also did his couple of years at the local community college and got an associates degree in Criminal Justice. Now he was the epitome of the upstanding citizen, young man on his way up. Johnny had had a couple of run-ins with Marty already - minor things, public drunkenness, speeding. “Hey, Marty,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Johnny. How you doing, Man? I’m looking for Bobby. You know where he is?”

“No. We was just wondering that ourselves. I was just out looking for him. But I expect my folks already told you that, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, yeah, they did. They said you were looking at Rasty’s. He wasn’t there, huh?”

“No, nobody there knew where he was.”

“You dropped him off there this afternoon, right?”

“Yeah, I dropped him off in front of Rasty’s, but I didn’t watch him go inside. That was the last time I saw him.”

“Well, let’s hope not,” Marty grinned. “We’ll find him. We always do.”

“Why are you looking for him anyway, Marty? My folks didn’t report him missing, did they?”

“No, I just found out he was missing when I showed up here looking for him. Fact is we got a report he was involved in something we’re checking on. We need to talk to him about that. Matter of fact, there were three other guys involved in the same thing. You got any idea who they might be?”

“What is this thing you’re talking about, Marty? What do you think my brother was involved in with three other guys?“

“Well, we really need to find out a little more about it before we can reveal too many details. You say you dropped him off at Rasty’s. Anybody there you think he might have hooked up with? Anybody he hung out with?”

“I don’t know those kids down there, Marty. I think kids more Bobby’s age go there, so it probably could be anybody.”

“Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but just to help me tie up the loose ends, where were you today? What did you do after you dropped Bobby off at Rasty’s?”

Johnny wondered if he should show outrage, annoyance, or some other emotion at being questioned as a suspect. He thought fleetingly that it’s hard to know how to act when you know more than you’re supposed to know about what’s going on. He decided to try to play it straight. “I just went out to the river and played cards with some guys I know.”

“Who were they? If you know them, I probably know them, too.”

“Sure you know them - Jake Vincent and Bo Linsky.”

“So there were three of you? Playing cards all afternoon at the river?”

Was it time to be outraged yet? “Yeah, three of us, playing cards, all afternoon, at the river,” Johnny punctuated each phrase with a jerk of his outstretched palms.

“Okay, okay,” Marty’s palm was pointing toward Johnny. “Look it’s getting a little late, and I think we’re a little tired. So let’s pick this up later. Maybe by then we’ll know more about where Bobby is.” He turned away and moved toward the steps. When he got to the sidewalk, he turned back, “Oh, by the way, Johnny, how’d you do in the card game? You win or lose?”

“What in the hell has that got to do with anything?“ asked Johnny, then shrugged. “I won a couple bucks,” he said.

“Good,” Marty said, “Oh, and I left my card with your folks in case any of you want to call me.” He walked on out to his car and left.

Johnny slept late the next morning, nothing better to do. But when he did wake up, it was to his mother’s screams. “Oh, no, no, no, no,” she cried in a voice that pierced Johnny’s sleep and brought him instantly awake to the knowledge that someone had found Bobby’s body.

He pulled on his pants and went out into the living room. Marty MacPherson was back. He stood, hat in hand, with a look of condolence on his face, in front of Johnny’s parents. Johnny’s mother continued to wail, tears rolled down her cheeks and she kept saying “no” over and over.

“What’s going on?” asked Johnny, looking at Marty.

“They found Bobby’s body,” said Marty. “He’s dead.”

“Who found Bobby’s body? Where? How’d he die? What happened?” Johnny was screaming now, too.

“Calm down, Johnny,” said Marty. “We don’t know much yet. Some state maintenance guys found the body out at the state park at one of those picnic tables. I’m sorry to tell you this, but it looked like he killed himself. The medical people have him now, and they’ll have to do an autopsy to confirm that.”

Johnny’s mother was still screaming, “No, no, no,” but now she added, “My boy didn’t kill hisself. He wouldn’t do that. No, no, no.” She finally quieted a little, sobbing and mumbling to herself. She collapsed onto the couch where Johnny’s father had been sitting quietly all along. Now he put his arm around her and started rocking slowly, still saying nothing.

Marty motioned for Johnny to accompany him to the front porch. When they got there, he turned toward Johnny and said, “The reason I was looking for Bobby yesterday was a robbery at the First City Bank. It’s going to be on the news today, so I might as well tell you what we know. Four guys tried to rob the bank with handguns. They were all wearing ski masks; but right in the middle of it, one of them pulled his mask off and started gasping for air. That sort of broke up the whole thing, because the other guys grabbed him and pulled him out of there. A couple of people in the bank are sure the robber who pulled off his mask was Bobby. They said he’d been in there before and they’d recognize him anywhere. They’re going to broadcast that today.”

“So then what’s your theory?” asked Johnny, “that Bobby knew he was gonna be caught so he shot hisself?”

“That’s one theory,” said Marty. He paused a moment, then added, “But I don’t think I said he was shot, did I?”

Crap, thought Johnny, he didn’t say Bobby shot himself. Man, I can‘t afford any of these screw ups. He decided to bluff it through. “Sure you did,” he said. “Anyway you said four guys tried to rob the bank with guns, so it stands to reason.”

“Yeah, well like I said, that’s one theory. But some of the guys who have been around awhile said another theory might be that the guys who were with him knew he was going to be caught so they shot him and tried to make it look like he shot himself. They say there’s ways of telling that, and they’re checking on it. They let me come to tell you because I told them I‘m a friend of the family.”

Yeah, some friggin' friend, thought Johnny. He had never liked Marty very much. Unlike the Daniels boys, he was too damned perfect. But Johnny had to go along this time. “That was nice of them,” he said. “Sort of break it to us gently, huh?”

“Yeah. Oh, and one other thing that’s going to be on the news today is the descriptions of the three guys who were with Bobby. Frankly, Johnny, those descriptions, height and size and stuff, fit you and Bo and Jake.”

“Come on, Man, you kinda reaching now, ain’t you? I guess me and Bo and Jake are about the most average sized guys you’re gonna find anywhere, so it ain’t surprising that we’d fit the descriptions of somebody whose face you can’t see.”

“I don’t know if it’s reaching or not,” said Marty. "Finding three such average sized guys together in the same place at the same time is a little bit of a coincidence in itself.” He paused a moment to let that sink in. "But I assume you three would be willing to be in a voice lineup to help clear it up, wouldn't you?"

"A voice lineup?," said Johnny. "What the hell's a voice lineup?"

"We'd just get the folks who were in the bank to listen to you three's voices to see if they can identify anyone from that. We'd ask you to say stuff like 'Raise your hands and get away from the counter' and 'Put all the money in here.' You know, stuff the robbers said. You wouldn't mind that, would you?"

What the hell can I say, thought Johnny. Out loud he said, "Hell, no, I wouldn't mind."

"Good," said Marty. “Now I have to get back to the office and see what else I can do in the investigation.” He turned toward the steps. This time he paused on the second step and looked back, “Oh, I asked Bo and Jake about the poker game. I can’t seem to make the numbers match up. You said you won a couple bucks, Jake said he won over $12, but Bo only lost $5. Where are the other losers?”

“Well, we probably just got it mixed up,” said Johnny. “Jake probably didn’t win that much. Hell, maybe I didn’t win.”

“Funny, I never knew a poker player that didn’t know exactly how much he won or lost in a game,” said Marty.

Another little screw up, thought Johnny. But he had this one covered. “You ever know one who might lie about how much he won or lost?” he asked.

“Yeah, I guess so. But it’ll all come out in the wash. It always does. One little inconsistency leads to another, leads to a bigger one, and finally it all comes out. We’re still talking to Bo and Jake. Jake seems to get a little nervous talking to cops. Sometimes he gets to talking and can’t seem to stop.” Marty walked down a couple more steps, and then turned back again, “And I’ve got to go back to Rasty’s. We can’t seem to find anybody who saw you there looking for Bobby."

"Why in the hell are you looking for somebody who saw me there? You oughta be looking for somebody who saw Bobby," snapped Johnny.

"That's just routine, Johnny. Don't overreact, might make people think you got something to hide. Anyway, it was probably just a different crowd than when you were there.”

“Yeah,” said Johnny, “Maybe that’s why I couldn’t find anybody who seen Bobby, a different crowd from when I dropped him off.” Now he realized that he should probably really have gone to Rasty’s and pretended to look for Bobby instead of just parking on the school grounds.

Marty paused and looked Johnny straight in the eye. “I’ll see you later, Johnny,” he said and walked slowly on down the sidewalk.

Johnny thought that last statement sounded a little ominous. He watched Marty all the way out to his patrol car and on down the street until the taillights disappeared. Then he turned to go back inside the house. His mother and father were standing inside, just on the other side of the screen door. He opened the door and squeezed in past them, heading down the hall toward his room.

“Johnny,” his mother called behind him, “Is it true what that policeman said? Was it you and Jake and Bo with Bobby in that bank?”

Johnny turned back. “He didn’t say that, Mama,” he protested.

“Might as well have said it. That’s what he meant. You boys been a problem for me ever since you was born. You was always in some kind of trouble. But always before it was little things. The kind of stuff I could just pass off by saying ‘Boys will be boys.’ But not this. This is real bad.”

“It‘s real bad okay, Mama,” snapped Johnny. “Whatever Bobby got hisself involved in this time is real bad. But another thing, Mama, you know you only said, ‘Boys will be boys’ when Bobby did something bad. When I did something, you had other stuff you said about how bad I was and how stupid and how useless.”

His mother didn’t give any indication that she even heard what he said. “You know what else that policeman said. He just as good as said you killed your own brother, too.”

“Now you know that ain’t true, Mama,” said Johnny trying to summon anguish to his face. “You know I wouldn’t never do nothing like that.”

“What’s tearing me up as a mother is that I don’t know it,” said Mama, twisting her apron between her hands and staring down at the floor. “I got one boy, my baby boy, dead, and the police are talking like my other boy killed him.”

“Well, Bobby may be gone, but you don’t have to worry none about me,” said Johnny. “They’ll never prove I killed him.”

His mother’s eyes snapped up from the floor and glared at him. “That’s a long way from saying you didn’t do it, Boy,” she rasped.

“Mama, I can’t talk about this no more. I might say something none of us wants to hear. I’m going to bed.” Johnny spun around and walked on up the hall to his room.

He didn’t sleep much that night. Even when he fell into a fitful sleep, he tossed and turned. And disturbing dreams came almost immediately. He saw Bobby's head lying on the picnic table with the blood slowly spreading around it. That brought him back instantly to a restless consciousness and troubling thoughts. Marty was right. Jake did get nervous and talk too much. And his own mother didn’t believe he didn’t kill his little brother. There were too many little inconsistencies popping up in their stories.

Sometime before dawn he lay smoking a cigarette in the dark, watching the red glow on the tip when he finally decided the best thing for him to do would be to get out of there, just leave and go somewhere they couldn’t find him. He snuffed out the butt and grabbed a laundry bag from his closet. He stuffed his clothes into it and started out down the hall.

He wanted to leave quietly, not wake up his parents, and get a long way away before they knew he was gone. But as he tiptoed down the hall, he heard a noise, a tiny stirring in the kitchen. He peeked in and saw a form sitting at the table in the dark. She couldn't see him, but he realized that it was his mother. In the meager light from the outside street lamp, he could also see that she had his father's pistol, a .38 caliber revolver, lying on the table in front of her. He could tell she was sobbing, her shoulders shuddered and her head bobbed slowly with the effort. As he watched, she reached for the pistol and held it in front of her, sobbing a little louder and saying softly, "Oh, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby, Bobby." She raised the gun slowly to her head and Johnny reached around the doorway and flipped on the light. His mother looked up at him, blinking in the harsh brightness.

“Mama, I didn’t know you was up already,” Johnny said, trying to sound casual. “What’s the matter, couldn’t sleep?”

“I ain’t been to bed,” she said. “I just been thinking about things.”

“What in the world you doing with that thing?” Johnny pointed to the gun. “That’s dangerous. You could get hurt.”

“Yeah, well, that’s one of the things I been thinking about,” she said and put the gun back down on the table in front of her. “Another thing I was thinking, Johnny, was that if Bobby was in that bank to rob it like they say, he wouldn’t been there without you. That boy would never do nothing like that on his own. And he wouldn’t done it with nobody else but his big brother neither. If Bobby was in that bank, I know you was in there, too.” She paused and looked at Johnny as if waiting for a rebuttal. He didn’t say anything. After a while she continued, “I been wondering all night about how Bobby died. They said it looked like a suicide, but I just don’t believe that boy could kill hisself. I just don’t think he had it in him no matter how much trouble he thought he was in.” She paused again, stared at the table, shook her head, and said, “No, he wouldn’t kill hisself. But the people who was with him, who thought he might get them caught, maybe they could do it.”

Johnny couldn’t restrain himself any longer, “But you said you think I was with him. So you’re saying you think I killed him.”

“Did you?” she asked. “Did you kill your little brother? Did you kill my baby boy?”

“You’re saying you don’t believe he’d kill hisself, but you do believe I’d kill him. My own mama believes I’d kill my own brother. I guess that sort of tells us where I stand around here. And that’s the way it’s always been. Ever since Bobby was born he’s been number one. If we got the situation you think we got, maybe that’s what made it, Mama.” Johnny was talking fast and loud now. “Maybe the way I was treated all my life made me into the kind of person who’d kill his own brother.” He glared at his mother.

She was silent now, tears streaming down her cheeks. She reached out and touched the gun before her. In almost a whisper, she said, “I got this out because it made me feel safe here in the dark. But during the night while I was thinking about what was going on, about Bobby and you, I wondered if I could ever use it. And I wondered how I’d use it, what I‘d do with it. My pain at losing Bobby is so bad I can’t stand it. But I think my pain at knowing I raised a son who’d kill his own brother is worse. Maybe I thought I could ease my pain with this. Maybe I thought I had no more reason to live after all this that happened.” She picked up the gun and stared at it. She raised it as if to bring it to her head again.

Johnny moved quickly toward her. He grabbed her arm and pulled the gun away from her head. As he did, she pulled the trigger, and a gaping hole appeared in the middle of Johnny's forehead. His momentum carried him onto the table, and he lay there still and quiet. His mother stared at the hole in his head for a long time as his blood ran down his brow onto the table cloth. Tears continued to stream down her face, and her body jerked spasmodically as she sobbed. Finally she stood up and reached into her apron pocket. She withdrew Marty MacPherson’s card and stared at it for a moment. She took one more look at Johnny’s body sprawled across the table and then moved slowly toward the telephone.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Douglas is a former military man who served in Air Force Intelligence all over the world including several combat and Cold War stations. He is now a freelance writer living in the southern US. He has a BS from the University of Maryland and an MS from Webster University. His work has appeared in various university, small press, and online publications.


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FEATURED BOOKS

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice