The old pickup was not traveling fast as it made its way north on Route 13 in Delaware to a favorite fishing spot on the Choptank near Denton, Maryland. The four friends, two men and two women, were yakking animatedly about nothing in particular between slugs of beer quaffed bareback from cans. As soon as one can was emptied and flung out of a window, another was popped open. It was, to all appearances, a congenial and happy throng headed out early this spring morning, truck bed filled with fishing gear and picnic coolers and dragging a flat-bottomed outboard boat on a rickety trailer with an outdated license tag. It was Buford’s truck, and James Alfred, Buford’s good buddy, had called his attention to the violation that morning as they were loading up. “Hellfire,” said Buford, “I forgot to renew it last year. Don’t make no difference nohow ‘cause nobody’ll notice. I don’t use the thing that much. Hard to remember. Maybe I’ll buy a new sticker one day—or maybe not,” he added. Any normal person might have chuckled at that point, but not Buford. He was almost completely lacking in a sense of humor.
Buford was at the wheel, a full can of beer between his ample piano-like legs. Trucks the age of his were not equipped with fancy cup-holders like the newer versions. When asked by friends why he didn’t buy a new truck, he always answered that this one was running fine and if it should falter, he could fix it free with spare parts in his garage. What little money Buford made as a mechanic was spent frivolously almost as soon as it reached his pocket. His mother used to say she never had to mend his pockets because the weight of coins never made any holes in them. She claimed that the same was true of the paper money he carried in a wallet in his hip pocket; there was no bulge for long, and thus his pocket showed no sign of wear. He thought that was sort of funny, but his personality dictated no subtleties. What others thought was funny, he usually took seriously. Anything truly serious he discarded.
The bumper stickers festooning his truck, for example, struck most people as funny. For Buford they represented some of life’s more important truths. Although he added to them or subtracted from them from time to time, today the truck and trailer sported, in addition to a Confederate flag, such catchy stickers as “If you can read this, you are too damned close. Back away!” “Don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for that son-of-a-bitchin’ foreigner Obama!” He was especially proud of the one that read “My child is an honor student at Billy Carter Elementary School” because he somehow sensed it showed his contempt for genuine education and his love of the life of a redneck. He did not care at all for Democrats, “college boys,” or “Yankees.”
He didn’t care much for Negroes, or nigras, either—he still referred to them that way—or as “coloreds”—not out of any disrespect, he was quick to add when eyebrows were lifted, for “black” used to be a term of opprobrium. He would admit, however, that those Negroes he knew were often “trifling” and “hard to manage.” The old-fashioned expression seemed to carry just the right amount of cautionary obeisance to the past. In many ways, Buford Showalter was a throwback to the 1930s.
In another way in particular he was a very modern man who corralled a lot of women and, after a short while, tossed them aside. He was actually married once, at 17, to a girl of only 14 who, already pregnant, in a scant five months made him the father of a little girl who was unusually bright considering her background but “plain as an old shoe,” as he himself was often wont to admit. When his wife chastised him for his cruel observation, he slammed her in the mouth. For that he received six months in the clink, and his wife divorced him. The court forced him to continue to pay child support until the child’s legal majority, and for that ruling, though quite in order, he began to resent the law in all of its aspects. A friend told him he was lucky to have avoided a charge of statutory rape. For that gratuitous remark the “friend” received a hard fist to the gut, almost rupturing the man’s spleen.
That family episode of his life was now 18 years in the past, and his monetary obligations to his child were over. He never let another woman rope him into marriage, which, he said, was an institution only for the weak-minded. However, his thirst for young girls continued apace such that he early on acquired the nickname “Birddog” for his ability to sniff them out. He justified his taste for the very young with his homespun reasoning: “Catch ‘em young, treat ‘em rough, tell ‘em nothing,” adding occasionally, “And keep ‘em barefoot so they won’t run away till you are ready to kick their asses.” Believe it or not, many young women found this philosophy tantalizing and flocked to Buford.
One of Buford’s latest acquisitions was sitting next to him today as they headed north along the Mason-Dixon line for a day of fishing. Her name was Edna Mae, and she was a mere 16, though she had somehow fudged an extra year on her driver’s license. Buford had turned 35 on March 31.
You had to hand it to old Buford; he had good taste in women’s looks. Edna Mae, whose name might well have better been Ashley or Courtney or something high-class like that, was a real looker. Unlike most girls with their stringy, straight, fake blond hair, she had short dark hair, very fair skin, large greenish eyes, and seductively long eyelashes that she kept curled up to a T. Her mouth had a young rosebud look to it and so enticed Buford that every now and then he’d lean over and smother her in a wet kiss. The only time he withdrew his right hand from her shapely left leg was to pull on his beer. He was quite adept at steering with one hand or, in fact, with no hands—with only his knees—when the testosterone rose uncontrollably. A big man, he needed a lot of “loving”—his way of putting it—to stay satisfied.
James Alfred and his girlfriend Missy were half-seated, half-reclining on their seat just behind the front seat back in the jammed-up “extended cab” part of the truck and stayed locked in each other’s arms. Buford had known Edna Mae for several months, but his good buddy James Alfred had picked up this “broad” only about a week before. She claimed to be 21, but the two men felt sure you could add another five years. James Alfred didn’t believe in marriage either, even though he’d never tried it. He and Buford had been kicking around together since they dropped out of high school at 16. James Alfred was no mental giant and worked at various grocery stores for a pittance. Often, his money didn’t even reach his pockets but burned his hands until he spent his week’s pay on old cars, booze, and women.
“Hey, guys, how about some breakfast? I’m starved!” squalled Missy. “So am I!” piped up Edna Mae. “I only packed lunch for us in the coolers. Nothing extra.”
“Yeah, well, okay, I suppose we could stop for half an hour at some ‘gulp and gallop’ around here,” responded Buford. “If we arrive at the river much past 7:30, the best fish will have stopped biting.”
“Oh, that’s nonsense,” broke in James Alfred. “The fish are hungry all of the time, and I agree with the girls: Let’s eat!”
In another mile or so, sure enough, there was a diner on the right, and Buford pulled into a double space right in front just off the road. He had to think ahead to allow for the boat trailer he was pulling. The fool thing took up a lot of space and, besides, he had to have room enough to back up easily in the lot or to turn around. You sure as hell wouldn’t back out into the highway with a trailer hanging on the back.
The restaurant was crowded, so the four of them had to squeeze into one of the smaller corner booths. Buford was a very large man, weighing close to 250 pounds. At 6 feet 4 inches he towered over most people, including his buddy, James Alfred, who at 5 feet 8 and a mere 150 pounds always maintained he needed an equalizer—and thus packed a .45. Buford pooh-poohed firearms for protection but rather relied on a huge claw hammer in a holster on his belt. He also carried a 7-inch switchblade strapped to his left leg “just in case.” James Alfred had seen him wield the hammer a number of times and was impressed—even a little horrified. Sometimes, without provocation, and after drinking heavily at The Down ‘n’ Out Bar outside town, Buford would swing round on his stool and survey the furniture and the patrons with a view to breaking some object or sending a few people to the emergency room. After four or five beers and three or four big scoops of bourbon, he kept a “mean” look on his wide, puckered face for hours on end. He never learned, or cared, that he and booze constituted a dangerous combination. Of course, he was sometimes arrested for disturbing the peace. Once he was charged with aggravated assault on a man who cussed at him for talking too loud. Buford explained to the cops why he did it: “He aggravated me,” he said. The only person who felt reasonably safe around Buford when he was in his cups was James Alfred.
Breakfast securely tucked away in their stomachs and marinating in several cups of coffee each, the party stepped out into the parking area and prepared to re-board Buford’s old truck. “What the hell is this?” bellowed Buford as he yanked out a traffic ticket from beneath a windshield wiper.
He read it slowly out loud: “Violation: Department of Motor Vehicles code #661128, Expired Trailer License Plate. Mandatory fine, $65.00, payable at the DVM within 10 days or fine doubles.” Buford’s name and address were at the top of the ticket. The summons was illegibly signed by some officer and dated that very day.
Buford was as a man gone crazy. He ranted, he raved, he cursed everybody and everything in sight. He ran both hands through his long but thinning hair. He became red in the face and even bloodshot of eye. His breathing was labored. A stranger would have thought he was about to have a stroke. He accused his passengers for having talked him into stopping at what he now called “little more than a ‘belch and vomit’.” He accused himself for not getting an earlier start. He then ripped the ticket into little pieces and, with utter disdain, scattered them about in the parking lot.
Squelched by the extent of Buford’s rage, everybody climbed back into the truck without a word and assumed their places. Buford started the engine, backed up slightly, and roared out of the restaurant lot and down Route 404 on the left on the way to Denton. Just then a pickup rose up in front of him. Without hesitation, and in defiance of a double solid line, Buford wheeled around the pickup and charged on. He noted that the truck carried a New York state tag and muttered, “Goddamn Yankees have no business down here in the first place!” As he swung his truck and the attached trailer quickly to the right to get back in line so as to avoid hitting another vehicle head-on, he cut off the New York driver, who hit his brakes and frantically, and belligerently, honked his horn. In his rearview mirror Buford could see the driver’s raised fist with the extended middle finger. “Screw you,” Buford yelled and stepped on it.
Anyone would think that by now the War Between the States would be just about over. After all, Delaware was a border state and had never left the Union. The few slaves there had not revolted. Being from Delaware should mean “tolerance” at least and “understanding” at best. Today Buford felt neither and repeatedly swore at the New York truck that was in “his” way. Buford was born and raised in Sussex County, the southernmost of Delaware’s three counties and the most conservative and South-oriented.
After about two miles it became obvious that the altercation was not over. The road had widened into four lanes, and the New York truck was gaining rapidly. It was, after all, a much newer pickup—another source of acute annoyance to Buford. All the while, the girls and James Alfred were imploring Buford to “let it go, let it be,” but Buford was so het up by now that he barely heard them. He kept rhetorically asking out loud who the hell that driver thought he was to menace him, Buford Showalter. Oh, how he wished he could get his hands on that fucker!
By now Buford’s truckload of people and stuff had reached 70 mph, and the trailer was swaying dangerously, yet that dratted New York truck was right on his ass. Suddenly, a traffic light came into view, and Buford saw his chance. He tore through at the end of the amber, forcing the truck behind him to stop for the red light with a penetrating screech. Buford laughed hysterically as he continued to haul butt up the road, recklessly passing everything in sight.
Then there was another traffic signal, and this time Buford had to halt. When he looked in his mirror, he could scarcely believe what he saw: The New Yorker had somehow caught up and was grinning wildly at him. When the light turned green and Buford began to move forward, the New Yorker came by him like he was tied to a stake and as he did so, he flipped a bird at Buford while his male passenger—God, a burrhead at that!—imitated a screwing motion with the middle finger of his right hand describing an in-and-out plunging through a circle made with the thumb and forefinger of his other hand. The latter action was clearly directed at the sexy Edna Mae. Buford was beside himself with rage and swore revenge, promising to get on the guy “like ugly on a ape,” though he had no idea how he might carry out his threat. The chorus arose again: “Let it be, Buford. Forget it.”
For a while it looked like it was all over, and about 10 miles beyond Denton, Buford nosed the truck down a back-country road leading to the river and, swinging it around so that the trailer was backed up to the water, set the brake and prepared to reel the boat off the trailer and down the short ramp. It was then that he noticed the New York truck less than 50 feet away.
The two occupants were just then exiting their truck, and Buford noted that they were industrial-strength men, one very white and one very black. It was not clear why they had stopped at the same place on the river that Buford and James Alfred had chosen. They were certainly not following Buford, for they arrived first. Initially, they seemed not to notice Buford and company and set about doing a little fishing themselves. Must have been a coincidence, thought James Alfred. The girls were paying no attention to the scene but unpacking their fishing gear from the truck bed. However, Buford, upon seeing his traffic nemeses again, and close up, succumbed immediately to his latent suspicions and said to James Alfred, “You know, those suckers knew we were coming here and beat us to our spot just to irritate me.”
“Oh, come on, Buford, they couldn’t have known where we were going. Just drop the whole matter. Let’s get on with our fishing. We can beach the boat again after a couple of hours and set up lunch on the tailgate.”
Grumbling but conciliatory, Buford agreed to load up the boat and cast off for a while. The girls helped them with the poles and the bait, and away they went. In minutes Buford became serious about catching some fish and even helped the women bait their hooks. The sun was by now fairly high in the sky; the day looked bright and promising. James Alfred was whistling a tune and ribbing the girls about something inconsequential.
About one-third of the way out into the river Buford turned the boat shoreward, where, he said, the fish were always most plentiful. They had tossed a few lines in on their way out and had no luck. Hugging the shore line, and sometimes pushing aside overhanging branches of bushes and small trees, the men cut the engine back to very slow speed and then off altogether. Dipping in two oars, they paddled a little now and then until they reached a spot Buford called ideal and threw in their lines. Almost immediately the fish jumped to take the bait, and before many minutes had passed the four friends had pulled in three one-pound bass and two decent-sized crappies. “This calls for a celebration,” announced Captain Buford. “Break out the beer!”
Everybody helped himself to a beer, raising the number consumed since before breakfast to three apiece—that is, except for Buford, who had taken several substantial pulls on his hip flask while unloading the truck bed. It took a lot of booze to give him a buzz—he was, after all, one big specimen of a man—but he was beginning to feel it. James Alfred watched him warily because that “mean look” was suffusing his visage. Every now and then Buford would say, “I could gladly smack the shit out of them two mutants. After all, they hit on Southern womanhood, and that I won’t put up with.”
For the next hour the fishing continued good. They filled up two creels and tied two more good-sized bass to the boat with a spare line. “You womenfolk can cook us up a mess of fish for supper,” suggested James Alfred, “while we go for another case of beer. We’ll go to my place and use the grill in the back yard. In the meantime, let’s head back to the truck and break out the sandwiches for lunch. Okay, everybody?”
Buford began to row out slightly from the shore until he sighted the boat ramp about 500 feet up the way. To his dismay, James Alfred saw that the two other truckers were still around, although they appeared to be loading a few things into the back of their vehicle as if preparing to leave. It was hard to tell at this distance what they were doing. Buford was watching too and began to mutter under his breath. All James Alfred could understand was the pungent phrase “son of a bitch.” He took this as a sign of impending trouble and implored Buford not to resurrect anything. “Promise me?” asked James Alfred. The women chimed in with their entreaties to “cool it.” “We don’t need no more shit today,” announced Missy in her inimitably profound way. “We can mosey on down the road a ways and find a pull-off where we can eat lunch,” added The Sexy One. But for her, Buford might have nixed everything, but he suddenly agreed that they ought to move on and eat elsewhere. He started the engine and at low speed headed in a wide sweep back toward the shore. Killing the engine at the last moment, Buford, followed by James Alfred, jumped out of the boat and pushed and pulled it with its female occupants up slightly onto the ramp. In a moment Buford had reached the prow just as James Alfred was pulling the boat higher. They could now back the truck up a little and winch the boat up onto the trailer in a jiffy. Buford was already winding out the winch line. The women tumbled out of the boat, bringing with them the empty beer cooler containing now the string of bass.
“Let’s haul ass,” urged James Alfred. The girls dumped the cooler in the back of the truck with the second cooler containing the sandwiches and more beer and wandered off to the cover of some nearby trees to answer a call of nature. Buford and James Alfred did the same but in the opposite direction. When they returned to the truck in just minutes, the girls were not back. They took a seat on the corners of the rear trailer ledge and waited. Buford seemed to have forgotten all about the two New Yorkers. Their truck was still parked about 50 feet away, but the men were not in sight.
Although neither Buford nor James Alfred was given to philosophizing about anything, they must have somehow sensed that Evil was about to enter the picture, for when the girls did not return from their woodsy pissoir after 15 minutes, they looked at each other in puzzlement. Buford was the first to speak. “Do you think we’d better go look for them? They’ve been gone a lot longer than necessary.”
“Yeah, maybe they’re lost,” volunteered James Alfred, whose mind was tumbling with possibilities.
Suffering now from similar mind tumbles, Buford inquired, “Just where the hell are those two damn Yankee cretins?”
For most people “evil” actions originate outside of themselves, namely, in other people. This assumption greatly simplifies matters and means that you are never to blame, never the source of Evil, always the other guy. You are thereby relieved of all guilt; you can act to overcome the Evil in the other person with a clear conscience. But that is also the way the other person feels, thus creating a phenomenon that is bereft of Good. Evil is not the other side of Good, and Good is not the obverse of Evil. Both Buford and James Alfred instinctively understood this fact; only James Alfred wrestled with his conscience.
Buford was down-to-earth definite: “If they’ve harmed our women, I’ll kill ‘em graveyard dead!” Good buddy James Alfred advised: “Let’s not jump to conclusions.”
But where to search? For one thing, James Alfred wisely suggested they look for a clump of trees not too far away; it was only logical the girls would find a spot close by. After all, they wanted to be on the way soon and knew that Buford and James Alfred were also ready to go. Reasoning that calling out in a loud voice might yield a response that would settle the question of direction, James Alfred bellowed forth the women’s names: “Missy, Edna Mae, let’s go. Where are you?” Buford then lent his mighty voice to the vocal search. Repeatedly, they called out the names.
For perhaps another 15 minutes or so there was no answer. Then, unexpectedly, weak cries of “Buford, James Alfred” wafted toward them from somewhere within the canebrake maybe a hundred yards away. They could hear crashing sounds as somebody seemed to be making his way through thick growth, stumbling along like a pack of wounded animals.
Then Buford and James Alfred saw them as they struggled toward them out of the thickets and river entanglements. They were bloody and bruised and hysterical, their clothing in disarray. “They used us,” screamed Edna Mae. “We couldn’t get away.”
In disbelief Buford and James Alfred rushed toward the women, surveying their injuries, questioning them, comforting them, reassuring them, swearing vengeance. This reaction struck James Alfred as curiously unlike Buford, who, hard as an old pine knot, seldom showed any compassion for anybody. By now the women were sobbing uncontrollably.
The sound of a truck engine roaring to life caught everyone’s attention. “Son of a bitch! They’re getting away!” Buford’s voice had the volume of a thunder clap, offset by the women’s clamorous cries, amidst sobs, of “No, no, Jesus Christ, no!”
To leave the area the truck had to swing by the four friends on its way to the one narrow roadway from the riverbank and out. “Shoot the lowlife! You’ve got your gun, boy. Use it!” Buford’s command to his sidekick had the authority of an avenging angel, even while the women screamed “No!” again and again, and James Alfred whipped out his .45 and fired two shots directly at the truck cab at a distance of no more than a dozen feet.
One heavy-caliber bullet crashed through the passenger window and struck the big Negro square in the face. As he fell first sideways and then forward, the second bullet slammed into the back of his head and spewed his brains out all over the driver. Justice was on the march.
Buford was ecstatic. Great shooting, he shouted, all the while on a dead run around the back of the vehicle and heading for the driver’s side of the truck. In a moment the driver tumbled out, ferocious hate overspreading his countenance. He screamed, “You rotten Rebel bastard, I’m going to take you apart piece by piece!”
This must have been music to Buford’s ears because, instead of being the least bit intimidated, cursing, he rushed full-tilt at “the damn Yankee” and swiped his claw hammer across the man’s face from left to right with such immense force that he yanked all his front teeth out with that one fell swoop. Gushing blood from his mouth, the man turned toward his tormentor just in time to catch a switchblade in the gut. “Finish him off, James Alfred!” screamed Buford. “Why in God’s name is this happening to us? He’s nothing but a lump of dog shit. Kill him, kill him cemetery dead! Do it now!”
The man lay writhing on the ground in front of James Alfred and Buford, but James Alfred began to walk away. “Let it be, Buford. It’s over now.” By this time the women were pounding with their fists on the backs of their boyfriends and slobbering out more “no’s” and “oh, Gods.”
And indeed it was over. A twitch or two and the man moved no more.
Not one of these four friends knew much of anything about how the universe operates, the promise of genetic research, electronics, space travel, how to combat germs, the exaggeration of ego aside from self-defense, the love of God, but even less about how Evil can ruin lives in a flash. Despite the massive accumulation of knowledge in the last two centuries, most people, like Buford and James Alfred, still don’t know themselves, let alone others, and the culture seethes along in social and religious anarchy. Buford’s question, “Why did this happen to us?” revealed that he had no clue to the forces within him that ended this day in immeasurable tragedy, for indeed it was shortly shown that two entirely different men carried out the assault on Missy and Edna Mae. END