Excerpt of zodiac lives
Owls hooted and coyotes howled in the blackness surrounding him as the wind rustled through the trees. A lonely dirt road wound through the tall grass, and a car with two young occupants parked near a creek bed.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Son, you have to crouch down like a tiger then pounce.” The man beside him, dressed in black, carried a .45 caliber handgun.
“Now the trick is ta startle 'em. They'll be neckin' and won't see ya comin'. Make a noise to get their attention.” The man handed him the gun, just as he had done in shooting practice with tin cans. But these were not cans, and this was no practice.
He did as he was told and slunk up to the side of the ‘54 Chevy. Shadows inside the car moved about as he peeked in the foggy windows. The older man waved his hand, urging him to continue.
He took a deep breath, gathered his courage, and tapped the snout of the gun on the window.
“Did you hear something?” asked a female voice from inside the car.
A male voice responded, “Only the beat of my love-filled heart for you.” The people shifted inside the vehicle, rocking the icy steel of the car against his arm.
Louder, she said, “I'm not kiddin'. I heard somethin'. Ya better get out there and take a look, or you better be fixin' to take me home right now, Bobby Joe.”
“Oh c’mon, Suzie. Ain't nothin' out there. You do this every time we get to the good stuff.”
He inched along the side of the car, just below the window.
His heart raced as he balled his sweaty palms. The gun in his hand weighed a hundred times more than it did before.
“Shh!” Bobby Joe whispered.
“See, ya heard it, too. I'm not—”
“I said shh!”
He pulled a buck knife out from his back pocket and plunged it deep into the back tire. The air hissed, echoing in the night, as the car's weight shifted to one side.
“Somebody's out there! Do somethin'.”
The car engine tried to turn over, but did not start. It cranked again and again, but nothing. “Help! Do somethin'!”
As he shot through the window, the boom echoed through the night and crackling glass fell everywhere. The recoil knocked him to the ground, twisting his ankle. Screams came from inside the car, as the steel gun slipped in his moist hands. Kneeling on the ground, he squared his shoulders, aimed the gun with two hands, and shot through the window a second time. Claps and cheers came from the man behind him.
As the screams continued, the passenger door opened and a woman in a dark dress came barreling out. Her hands flapped about aimlessly as she ran into the night toward the lake.
“Do it, son. Get her now.”
He hesitated before he stumbled to his feet, peering inside the car. Blood. Everywhere, there was blood. The dark, thick liquid bubbled from the man's head and oozed down in all directions.
His father ran to his side. “A head shot from the outside. I'm proud of ya. Means it's gonna be a great year.”
The woman screamed again, trapped between the lake and the killers. The father leaned into his ear. “Now, finish 'er off. This is yer big day. Yer a man afta today.”
He stared at her and shuffled his feet, limping on his injured ankle. Pain jolted through his body, as adrenaline pumped through him. Even his temples throbbed with anticipation and anxiety.
The woman fell to her knees and clasped her hands, begging. “Please, please don't. I ain't gonna tell nobody. I promise. Just let me go. Please.” The word came out in a three part gasp as tears streamed down her face. Her entire body trembled.
He tilted his head as make-up ran down her face. She looked like a clown and a helpless child at the same time. Leveled with her forehead, the gun wobbled in his hand but edged closer to her.
“That's my boy! Do it ... Do it now,” urged the father.
He looked over his shoulder, with the barrel of the gun pressed into the woman's face. “Do I have to, Papa? She ain't gonna tell no one.” Tears trickled down his face, and his nostrils flared.
The older man stampeded toward them and raised a hand in the air. Something metal hit the side of his head, flinging him to the ground. The man stomped and kicked him over and over, causing him to vomit. The foul taste of acid lingered on his tongue and floated up his nose.
The man's finger pointed in his face. “When I tell ya to do somethin', boy, ya better do it!” Again, the hand came down upon his head and back. Trying to defend himself, he raised his forearms above his head and curled in a fetal position on the ground.
The woman screamed in the distance. They both looked toward the voice, watching as she ran several yards away from them.
Another whack to the head. “Now I gotta go chase her. Yer gonna pay for this one.” The man hustled toward the screams, almost out of sight in the dark.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
The screaming stopped.
The man in black skulked toward him. “What's the matter with ya, boy? What ya think I been teachin' ya? This ain't fishin' ya know, this is life.”
His head hung low as he stared at the gun in his hand. It lay flat on his right palm as his left fingers traced the shape of it. Without raising his head, he lifted his eyes and glared at the older man.
The man's evil grin frightened him. “I know what ya thinkin'. And ya might kill me one day. But this ain't that day.”
His shoulders hunched as he dropped the gun on the ground. Do all twelve-year-olds go through this? Is this normal? With one hand holding his stomach, he toddled back to their parked car on the other side of the lake.
He climbed inside and waited. When his father joined him, he looked out the window into the night. The man twisted, putting the guns in the back seat.
“Son, ya gotta learn it's kill or be killed in this world. My Pa taught me this, an' I'm teachin' you. Someday, ya'll teach yer youngin's, and that's the way it is.”
With watery eyes, he turned his head and said, “But they didn't hurt nobody, Pa. Why?”
The man's hands clenched around his throat. “Ya don't ask why, dammit, ya just learn. Pay attention to what I teach ya.”
The boy tried to nod his head in the affirmative, but the man shook the child back and forth by the neck. “Ya see, I'm teachin' ya how to do anythin' ya want without gettin' caught. Don't ya get that?”
The boy's hands reached to break his father's grip. “Can't breathe ... please ... can't breathe.” The man released him by pushing him into the door of the car.
“One of these days yer gonna get it. One of these days yer gonna un'erstand.” The man pulled out a cigarette pack from under the car seat and lit a stick.
After a few puffs, smoke filled the car. “I never told ya about Texarkana, did I?”
The boy refused to answer. Any answer could result in a beating. The stench of the menthol smoke burned his sinuses as he tried to hold back his coughing.
Taking a drag of the cigarette, the man said, “Ya ain't no man 'cause ya can't kill. Hell, ya can't even breathe in smoke. I'll make ya a man one of these days, though. I promise ya that.”
The man looked out the driver's window as he started the car, “Back in '46 I decided to try my Papa's teachin's. Yer mama and me was fightin', and I went to stay wit' a friend for a while. Yer mama made me so mad when she said she wasn't gonna marry me.”
The man turned the wheel, and the car bounced over several rocks and uneven ground before hitting the dirt road. “That mama of yers, she really knows how to drive a man to kill.” Laughing at his own joke, he coasted the car along until they reached a paved street.
“That's when I come up wit' the idea of the sack on my head. That scared the bejesus out of 'em. Remember what I'm tellin' ya, boy. Yer gonna need it someday.”
I'm gonna need it all right, I'm gonna need it for you.
“Ya listenin'? Ya gotta pay attention so ya don't get caught. Anyway, yer mama and me got back together, and we moved to southern Texas after we got married. I been a good husband and provider. I kept my nose clean and stayed away from my games. But now that yer becoming a man, I reckoned it's a good time to play again.”
The father reached over and tousled the boy's hair. “Ya know how many boys wish their daddies spent time with 'em?”
The car weaved and bobbed along the roadway. Still refusing to talk, the boy just sat there, listening to his father and determined to find a weakness and exploit it. Yeah, Papa, keep talking. Teach me.
“I'll show ya the newspaper clippin' from back then. Those damn cops didn't know nothin'. Wasn't no reason to beat the gravel then.”
The boy lifted his ankle across his knee and rubbed it. The swelling throbbed and concentrating on the pain took his mind off his actions, as well as his father's maniacal soliloquy.
“Ya wanna know real power? It ain't even taking the life. It's turning an entire town crazy and against itself. Those people shut the whole town down after dark.” He puffed on the cigarette some more. Then he pulled the car over. The father turned toward the boy and said, “Never leave nothin' behind. Not a weapon, a cigarette, a footprint. Always check the area before and after. Always wear gloves. Keep calm. Even if the cops are around, even if they question you, remember that you belong there. Tell them you saw the killer go off in the other direction. Hell, give 'em a description—a bad one. Blame it on a Negro, that always works.”
The boy nodded.
“Ya gonna remember what I'm tellin' ya?”
Again, the boy nodded.
“Once ya get the thirst for blood, ya never lose it. After ya were born, I got the lust for killing again. It grew and grew. Then Korea called me. I got to slaughter lots of 'em commies,” he huffed. “Some of 'em boys shook in fear. They hesitated and died, a bunch of young boys they never become men. Some cried in the corner, afraid to pick up a weapon. Never understood them. Get the taste for blood boy, and you'll fear nothing. It's crazy to think that I got medals for being a hero, here they'd hang me for the same thing.'
The boy mumbled, “I'll never get the taste for blood.”
He wasn't expecting his father's hand to fly. Pain radiated from his left eye as the force of the blow resonated. His head clunked on the window. “Then taste your own, dammit.”
The warm coppery fluid spread through his mouth and down his chin. With stone cold eyes, he faced his father and proclaimed, “Yer warned. When I do, I'll come for ya.”
The man's hearty laugh flooded the vehicle. “Hell, maybe you'll become a man after all.”