Friday, March 04, 2005



From the moment they left I was tracking them down. Dan won’t tell you that, and Dan won’t tell you that he didn’t learn the truth about Billy himself. He got it from me. That big jelly head couldn’t put a two-piece puzzle together without instructions.

So yes, I was pursuing my degree, but you can take any of that neglectful mother hooey Dan tries to feed you and spit it right back in his face. Because every book I cracked took me a step closer back to my son. The Five Rs of Research taught me about newspaper archives. From Conversation to Interrogation taught me how to juice the facts from folks who think their own name is a state secret. And Advanced Investigation Techniques taught me how to get injury data from the hospitals, how to locate a cluster of gun-shot wounds of the same caliber.

I had to do it all by my lonesome, cause the cops sure weren’t going to help none. They’d decided to call all the shootings accidents. All those cowboys were just too embarrassed that they’d been out-slung by a toddler. Then Mr. Berger had the big to-do with that “Daybreak Mugger” up in Austin, and they didn’t quite drop the whole thing—they just tossed it back and forth from hand to hand like a hot biscuit.

“At this point, if your husband has elected to take his son on a vacation, he’s well within his rights Mrs. Cullers.” This is what they told me down at the station. Some melon-faced girl sitting behind a desk.

“But what about the gun?” I said. “Even if you want to call the shootings accidents, aren’t you at all concerned about a 3-year-old boy running loose with a gun.”

“I assure you Mrs. Cullers, as soon as Officer Berger is finished talking to the reporters, he’s putting out a warrant to recover the gun that was used in the three most recent accidents.” She straightened her little badge like she was trying to remind herself that she was actually working. “If your husband fails to turn over the gun in the 24 hours subsequent to the issuance of that warrant, then we’ll put out a warrant for his arrest.”

“But my husband’s left town. He ran from the cops. My son shot two police officers. My husband put a gun to my head . . .”

“I understand your concern Mrs. Cullers, but there are procedures here. These things take time. As matters currently stand, all we have is a series of random handgun accidents. That’s what’s on the official report. No one ran away from anyone. No one put a gun to anyone’s head.” She glanced back through the long window behind her desk. Mr. Berger was leaning against a desk, smiling with his arms folded across his puffed out chest while a gaggle of reporters mooned over him like majorettes with crushes on the high school quarterback. “Honestly, Mrs. Cullers, do you think that the man who cracked the Daybreak Mugger case could actually have been intentionally shot and then eluded by a three-year-old boy.”

“I was there,” I reminded her, but she didn’t give a hoot. I asked about the other victims. Chad, the day-care worker. But she told me neither of them had pressed charges. The day-care worker had left town. And Chad’s parents were so busy planning their trip to LA for another Star Search audition that he wasn’t even included in the “accident” report.

The whole thing just stunk like a weed. But what can you do? I was on my own.

Nearly a week later, they sent a couple of uniforms to the house looking for Dan. Didn’t even mention Billy. They wanted to ignore his part in all this. Make believe he didn’t even exist.

I offered them coffee—I wanted to get some information of my own—but they brought me in for questioning as if I was trying hide Dan. Mr. Berger and his partner weren’t even there anymore. He’d resigned and lit out for Houston. His partner, whose name they wouldn’t give me, just plain disappeared—poof.

So the greenhorns they had working on the case now didn’t even know details form cat tails. When I lost my temper and knocked a soda all over someone’s desk, called them all “rhubarbs,” and reminded them that they’d have found Dan by now if someone had listened to me last week, they told me I was getting “belligerent.” Threatened to lock me up for the night.

So I backed off.

I did my own research. Found the article about Mr. Berger. Found Mr. Berger.

Found out the truth about “Billy Shooter.”

Monday, February 21, 2005


From the Red Creek Review

Local Officer Solves Statewide Robbery Case

Red Creek police officer Clark Berger had never even investigated a theft before he cracked Texas’s biggest string of robberies from his bed last week. Based on descriptions Berger provided to state police, officers in Austin arrested an un-named suspect in the recent rash of early morning muggings that has plagued the city and many of the surrounding areas for the last three months.

“We feel confident that we have apprehended the so-called ‘Daybreak Mugger,’’ said state chief of police Dan Riddel at a weekend press conference to introduce the small-town hero announce big-city the capture. “Texas can once again rest easy thanks in large part to some top-notch police work from one of our less experienced, but no less capable county officers in Red Creek.”

Recovering in the hospital following a handgun accident, Berger experienced what he described as a “lucid memory” of a brief encounter with someone matching the description of the “Daybreak Mugger” outside the popular Austin eatery where the robbery spree began in June.

“Suddenly it was clear as day,” Berger explained. “I’d never even thought of it before then. It was just one of those millions of moments you ignore. I’d brought the family up to Austin for a country music festival, and one morning when I went out for cigarettes, I just brushed shoulders with him on the sidewalk. That’s all.”

At the time, Berger says, he didn’t make anything of the encounter. Still five weeks before a description of the suspect would emerge, he had nothing to match to the face. And later, when he did see the artist’s sketches on the news, Berger had long forgotten about the encounter.

But four months later, when he lay in a Red Creek hospital bed floating somewhere between sleep and waking, Berger experienced a sudden and overwhelming recollection of the man he’d bumped into. “It was amazing,” he explained. “I could play the moment back and forth in my mind like a video tape, and . . . [then] I realized that I could zoom in and out as well. That’s when I saw his name.”

The suspect, it turns out, had his wallet open as he left the restaurant and collided with Berger, incredibly allowing Berger to freeze frame this split second, zoom in on the name on the driver’s license, and connect a name with the face of one of Texas’s most wanted.

Yet, when Berger first notified state police, they were less than receptive. “At first, they questioned me like I was the suspect,” he recalled. “Being a cop myself, I can understand their suspicion, but I just told then, ‘Hey, check the guy out. I’m not saying my ID has to be your only proof, but I’m giving you a name you might want to look into. Take it for what it’s worth.”

While the nature of Berger’s identification was, and remains, a mystery to the authorities, Chief Riddel was willing to take a chance on the information. “In a case like this, you have to track down every lead,” he said. When they tracked down the name and address Berger remembered, police found the suspect in his apartment with the purses and wallets of his most recent victims.

The unorthodox nature of Berger’s tip means that it will most likely not be used in a trial. In fact, even after the suspect was brought into custody, state police interrogated the man they’re now calling a hero for eight hours to make sure that he wasn’t connected to the case in some other way. “This is all highly unusual for us,” Chief Riddel explained. “It was very difficult for our detectives to believe that Mr. Berger just suddenly remembered such specific details. But after thorough questioning, we’re satisfied that that is exactly what happened. So I don’t know how he could remember all this—I’m just happy he did.”

Just as happy is Berger himself, who miraculously only spent one night in the hospital with the gunshot wound to the head that apparently sparked the memory.

But while his police work has made him the toast of the precinct, Berger thinks the “Daybreak Mugger” case may be his last. “I’m thinking of going back to painting,” he explains. “I was really into art growing up but I was all drive and not much talent, if you know what I mean. I could draw all right, but I couldn’t hold an image in my head. Now, I’m just flooded with images, and I just can’t wait to put them down on canvas.”

If the paintings are even half as vivid as this standout policeman’s memories, Red Creek is no doubt in for some pretty stunning art artwork.

Friday, January 07, 2005



We'd driven west through seven states over a period of about three weeks before Dad brought up the first version of the whole"Billy Shooter" thing. We were just outside of Vegas. Some little parasite town in the desert filled with bottom feeders who'd been banned from most of the real casinos long ago. They were the true gamblers, Dad said, anybody in Vegas was just playing. For these folks it was a way of life.

I can't really say how or why we ended up there. I was still three at the time, so to me it wasn't any different than all the other places we'd been--except that the motel office had this loud arcade games that grown ups played and cursed at. Dad had worked a bit here and there as we drove, signing onto construction sites for the day or finding some kind of short-term contract work in the classifieds, but this was the first place where I got the sense that he wanted to stay. He let me pick out a hotel with a pool, brought our heavy jackets in from the car, and even bought some soap and shampoo at a little dirt-floor drug store.

It made sense though. Us being there. Looking back, I sometimes think we didn't drive there so much as we were pulled there, our desperation sucked toward all their desperation like two screwed up magnets. In retrospect, it was the perfect place to start all this crap. A town stuck between nowhere and everywhere, filled with hard luck and dumb money.

Dad had found an illegal black jack game in one of the local bars, and he'd already met a couple of the hardest luck cases. That's what gave him the idea. That and the fact that he'd just lost all the money he'd earned and was now ready to try anything.

We were sitting Indian-style on either side of the drooping motel bed, a plate of mostly ketchup with a few cold, day-old French-fries between us. "You know what a wager is all about son? "he said pulling a French fry out of the ketchup and dropping it into his mouth. "It's simple really. You can see it most clearly in the real hard cases though, the one’s who belly up to the table to send next month's rent chasing after this month's. It's not the promise of what they might gain that makes them do that; it's the threat of what they might lose."

He picked another French fry up, then threw it back into the ketchup, rolled to his side, and stood. "That's what they love. The same way a drunk comes to love the burn of whiskey, they love that nagging little sick they get in the pit of their stomach when they know they stand to lose everything." He was pacing now, glancing at his gray reflection in the dirty mirror over the TV. "I tell you, in a town like this all you'd need is a sure fire way for folks to bet their lives and you'd clean up. You see what I'm talking about here, don't you?"

I didn't. I just stared down into the plate of fries, unsure of what he wanted me to say, how he wanted me to look. That was back when I wasn't talking much, but even if I was, I wouldn't have known what to say. I hadn't seen the gun since we left home. He had it locked in the glove box I guess until he could figure out what he was going to do with me, but as far as I knew he wasn't ever going to let me shoot it again.

"It might be a long shot," he said, grasping me by the shoulders so that I looked up into his eyes, "but I'm thinking with what you can do with a gun, people will pay you to shoot them."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005



It’s like my granddaddy used to say, “Nothing makes sense until it makes dollars.”

From the minute we skidded out of the driveway, I was trying to make sense of it all. Trying to crack this latest nut of Chad’s voice sounding so damned good all of a sudden. Trying to link his fading high note with everything else—Pam’s new obsession, the cop staring up at the sky talking nonsense with a bullet in his head, the day care worker sitting bolt upright in her bed and spitting a bullet into her hands. There was something that stringed all this together, but I just couldn’t keep my finger on it long enough to tie it into a bow.

There were other concerns too. The way we high-tailed it out of there to go off and live out of my truck, leaving behind two more shootings and one bitched up and confused wife and mother, there were three new big jobs on my plate. I needed to keep us hid from the cops, I needed to keep us moving, and I needed to find some way to put bread on the dashboard.

And that’s what it was really. Just like my granddaddy said it. It was that old fashioned need to turn some kind of a profit out of Billy’s abilities that finally shined the light in my eyes—finally showed me what Billy Shooter’s real talent was.

Monday, December 20, 2004



Karen says that between the ages of three and four is when kids begin to learn right from wrong in a, quote, “social context.” The ideas of good boy, bad boy are replaced with fair and unfair. Behavior separates from identity. This is, she says, when the image of a mother’s disapproving face begins to recede in favor of an internal voice – a conscience. According to her second dissertation, the roots of all the religions of the world stretch back to the imaginations of three-year-old-boys.

Between the ages of three and four my mother’s face was replaced by upside down street signs, strings of telephone poles holding hands along the road, highway exit signs stretched sideways across the edges of a passenger side window. For a full year as I looked up waiting for sleep, laying in the truck curled in the passenger seat or stretched out in the flat bed on the nicer days, this is all I saw.

This, of course, and the men who asked me to shoot them. Large, barrel-chested men with thick curls of hair sticking out from their collars. I see them now mostly as bodies balanced on the end of my gun. Strange figurines molded into life from the gray steel that held the bullets that could never kill them

There were others too standing to the side, either backed against the warehouse walls, or closed in a circle in some backroom of a bar. Their eyes bouncing from me to the men I shot, their hands beating out an unsteady rhythm against a pack of cigarettes, scratching at their stomachs, or nervously adjusting their crotches. Then, of course, there was my father sitting at a folding table somewhere in the corner counting the money.

My mother’s face, the memory of it at least, did come to me in my sleep some times, but even then it was fading, and mostly I just saw it the way it looked the last time I’d seen it for real—staring back at me as I pressed a gun against her forehead, her eyes telling me something I still feel too young to understand.

Dad said we needed to keep moving. These words, this phrase, becoming for me almost a sort of bed time prayer. Each night whether I slept in the truck or in some highway motel, he’d tuck me in with the same words. “Got to be up early now Billy. Got to keep moving.”

If you could base a religion off of those words and images, make that its solemn prayer, the street signs and the men dancing on the edge of my gun the sacred icons, my mother’s eye’s stretching wide and sinking behind a well of tears the face of some great and unknowable god, then that’s what I got. That’s what I learned from three to four.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004



So here’s where the shit hit the fan so hard it damn near snapped the blades right off.

I wasn’t sure why the cops had come. You could take your pick of reasons. Maybe they’d traced the gun. Maybe they’d heard about the hospital. Maybe Chad’s sissy-assed high pitched screams had made one of the neighbors call 911. It didn’t matter. Point was, they’d come for Billy. They’d come to take his gun away again. But if I knew my boy as well as I felt I had come to know him in the last few days, I knew he wasn’t giving it up without a fight.

Sure enough when I walked in, one of the cops was flopping around on the living room rug with a hole in his shoulder. “He’s out back,” he said looking back and up toward me through the cutout in the coffee table. “Clark chased him downstairs and I heard the door. They're in the backyard. I need you to call 911. I can’t get to the radio—” He groaned and clutched at his shoulder as he tried to sit up.

“Relax Chief,” I said, stepping over him to get to the hallway. “Whatever you think you’re feeling right now is just shock. I know at least that much by now, and I’d be willing to bet assholes to soup bowls that if you had the balls to stand up, you’d find that bullet did no more damage to your arm than a tetanus shot.”

“Sir, I assure you this is a serious situation . . . Sir, do not go into that yard. He may be a little boy, but he’s dangerous.”

“You bet he’s dangerous,” I said as I headed toward the steps, “but not in the way you think. That’s my son you’re talking about. That’s Billy Shooter.”

When I got out to the backyard the other cop, Clark I guess his name was, was kneeling at the bottom of our oak tree with one hand cupped to the side of his mouth and the other pointing his gun straight up the tree trunk. “Son,” he called out. “Just throw down your weapon and I’ll climb up and give you a hand out of there.”

Billy didn’t move. Just sat there straddling a thick branch about 20 feet up, aiming my .22 down at the cop through the leaves.

It had cleared up some since the rain earlier, so half the neighbors had spilled out into their backyards to gawk. Even the Woodlakes were out there. They had Chad’s head wrapped up in enough gauze to choke a horse, but sure enough, they hadn’t even gone to the hospital yet. I had half a mind to tell them “I told you so,” but as I looked their way, I saw Pam, stirred up into fizzy tizzy, headed straight toward me.

“What’s going on here!?” she screamed. “Where’s Billy? Dan! What’s going on here?”

The cop turned half an eye toward us, keeping his gun trained on Billy, who I knew was just waiting on him to get sloppy so he could take his shot. “Folks,” the cop said. “I’m going to need you to step back—”

“That’s my son, up there,” Pam blurted, seeing now that Billy was up in the tree. “We’re the parents. Billy! What are you doing up there? You come down this instant!”

“Listen to your mother,” the cop said, all of his attention back on Billy. “Ma’m if you could keep on talking to your boy and explain why it would be a good idea for him to toss down the gun, that would be helpful. Perhaps your husband could say a word as well.”

“Billy . . .” Pam stepped up just behind the cop, leaned to the left, and looked up into the tree. “Mommy needs you to listen to the nice police man and please toss down that gun. It’s not a toy. It’s very dangerous. Do you understand? Not a toy. Danger. Just toss it down and then we’ll go inside and get some ice cream.” She turned back to me. “Dan, for God’s sake say something.”

I looked back at her, then scanned the faces of all the neighbors. They were all looking at me the same way. Like, what’s the matter with you, jackass? Your son is acting like a full-blown menace to society and as parent it’s your job to protect society from your son.

But I’d come to a different conclusion. It was kind of a moment of clarity for me. Seeing the cop and Billy in their little stand off. Like, I’d been going on gut for the past couple of days, but now I could think it out. Even if Billy was a full blown menace, I realized, if had any dog in this hunt, you could be damned sure it was with my son and not with society.

So when the cop cocked his head over his shoulder and told me, “Yes, sir it would be helpful if you could help talk your son down as well,” I told him straight.

“Fuck you,” I said. “Fuck every goddamned one of you.”

“Dan!” Pam yelped. “Billy needs you right now. Tell him to throw down that gun.”

“It’s true sir,” the cop put in, his eyes locked on Billy. “Your boy needs your help. He needs his father.”

“Well you’re right enough about that, my boy needs his father” I said, the air all around me growing a shade darker as the sun slid further down behind neighbors’ houses. “And it’s my job to be there when my boy needs me. But that right there is one job I don’t do for you, your partner, my wife, or the rest of the goddamned world. So you can all tell me boys shouldn’t play with guns—not even toy guns according to my wife, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be your patsy in all this.” I was rolling now, my thoughts coming straight out my mouth before I could even chew them into shape. “This is the day I take a stand. Not for me. But for my boy. For his future. So if you want that gun, you’re going to have to take it from him yourself.”

“What are you talking about?” Pam said. “What’s going on here?”

I glanced from her to the cop, who had again taken his attention off of Billy to look my way. Then I scanned the neighbors’ faces again. “I’ll tell you what’s going on here,” I said. “I’ll tell you all what’s going on here.” I turned to the cop and stepped toward him holding my arms out to the side. “My son is going to shoot you” Then I looked back toward all the neighbors. “It’s what he does. It’s not going to do any real damage, though. And you can all be my witness to that.”

“Sir,” the cop said, his voice climbing toward a shout. “You’re not helping matters out here. I’m going to ask you to return to your house.”

“There’s more to it though,” I went on. “I can’t quite get it down yet—”

Before I could finish my sentence, I was interrupted by the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

Out of cold clear blue, little Chad was singing. And not just singing, mind you, but I’m telling you he was belting out some the most emotionally on the money and pitch perfect vocal work I’d ever heard. It was just an a capella cover of one of those crap air supply songs—“All Out of Love,” or “Lost in Love,” I know the song, but I’m not sure of the title—but it blew the whole damned crowd away. Even his parents cocked their heads at him, their chins damn near bouncing off their toes. In the second line of the song, he put a little warble on a drawn out “love’ that just about ripped your heartstrings right out your throat, and it was like Billy up in that tree didn’t mean a shit-ball to anyone. Pam, the Woodlakes, the rest of the neighbors, and even the cop were all glued to this kid with his voice out of nowhere.

Billy though was somehow untouched by it. He just looked down, saw that the cop was distracted, and—bang—shot him right through the top of his head.

Chad kept on singing, and the crowd was split between watching him and turning to see Billy jump out of the tree. He looked down at the cop for a second.

The cop looked almost dead. Pale as talcum, a thick stream of blood pouring from his melon. But his eyes were still open, and he was still talking. “Son, I’m only going to ask you one more time, before I climb up there after you,” he said. “Now you don’t want that do you?”

“Don’t want to take no nap,” Billy said, and then he skipped over the cop, grabbed my hand, pressed his cheek into my hip, and looked up at me.

Pam stood frozen, staring at the both of us, her face falling apart.

The neighbors were all looking at us now, though Chad kept right on singing.

I looked down at Billy, then up at Pam. “Billy and me, we’re going to be hitting the road for a while,” I said. “We got some father-son stuff to sort out. I think it’s going to take us a little while, and I think right here might not be the best place for us to be.”

I turned, took Billy’s hand, and walked him up the driveway, but right away I could hear them all screaming after us.

“Wait!” someone said. “You just can’t leave.”

“Somebody call 911”

“Don’t let them get away.”

They kept calling out after us, but I didn’t pay it no mind until, when I got to the top, just a few feet from my truck, somebody pulled on my arm.

Of course, it was Pam. “Where do you think you’re going,” she shouted. “What the hell is this all about? What have you been doing with my son?”

Now, let’s notice here that I did try to be reasonable with her. “Pam,” I said. “There ain’t no reason to go get all huffy puffy over this. Billy’s got something – like a talent – we didn’t know he had until the last couple of days starting with when he plugged you in the gut. The rest of the world. These assholes coming up the driveway behind you . . . They ain’t going to understand it. See, this is time for snap decisions, and I’m making one. Billy and me are leaving town tonight. If I find reason over the next couple of weeks to believe that you're with us on this, I’ll be back in touch, if not, then you can consider this goodbye.”

But Pam, she didn’t want to hear reason. “You will do no such thing,” she squawked trying to reach around me to get a hold of Billy.

Now Pam and I had had our share of rows, especially in the early days of our marriage, but I’d never seen her like this. There was a steel to her jaw and a wild light in her eyes that was brand new.

I shrunk back from at first, trying to move Billy away without getting physical with her. But she just kept coming.

“You give me my baby,” she screamed. “Billy, come to your mother. Let him go Dan!”

I just kept backing away from her and the rest of the neighbors. Mind you, Chad had entered the second chorus of his song, and if anything he was sounding even better than when he started.

So I almost didn’t hear the voice coming from my right until it was too late. “Sir,” it called out. “I want you to release the child, and step back against the vehicle.” It was the first cop from inside the house—another “I told you so” I wouldn’t get the chance to say. He was bearing down on me, his arms outstretched, pointing his gun my way, a small dark circle of blood on his shoulder.

Now there’s the singing, there’s the neighbors, there’s Pam, and there’s the cop. And it’s all just coming at me and Billy. I had to do something. I ain’t saying I’m proud of it, but I had to do something.

In one quick move, I spun away from Pam, grabbed Billy by his right-hand wrist, and pulled his arm up so that my .22 was pressed against Pam’s forehead. “What say we all just slow down a minute,” I said, crawling my fingers over Billy’s so that my trigger finger curled right behind his. “Ain’t nobody here really even hurt. But if you all can’t understand that, then you sure as shit better take me serious when I say I will make damn sure this boy shoots his mother in the head if you all don’t cool down and let me and my son be on our way.”

I didn’t know what would happen if I pressed Billy’s finger against the trigger. If it was me doing the pushing, would he be the one shooting? Was this too close a range for him to even make a difference anyway? I hadn’t the foggiest, but I knew it didn’t mean much more than a pretty smile on a heifer. Thing about a gun is when folks see it they don’t do too much thinking. To them this thing was going to blow Pam’s head off no matter who was shooting it. They stopped dead in the tracks.

“Now just hold on a minute sir,” the cop said, his voice calm but firm, probably some tone they teach them up at the academy. “You don’t want to make things worse here. How about we just put down the guns and have a talk.”

With two cops shot, I knew I didn’t have too much time before all sorts of Johnny law would start raining down on my front yard, so I had to act quick.

“Now look here,” I said, “I ain’t never been a violent man, but damn it sometimes you don’t know the dog can bite till you snatch a bone from his teeth. If you do not put you gun down by the time I count to three. My son and I are going to put a bullet in her head.” I looked at Pam, her face twisted in this frozen grimace, the end of the gun pressing wrinkles up into her forehead. She wasn’t looking at me though. She was looking at Billy, her eyes wide, pleading.

The cop didn’t say shit, so I said, “One.”

I couldn’t see all of Billy’s face, but from what I could, I could see that he was looking right back up at his mom. Looking her dead in the eye, but he wasn’t even resisting my finger on his finger on the trigger. He was with me on this one.

“Two . . .” I said.

The cop looked at me. Pam looked at Billy and he looked back at her. Sirens whined out from a few blocks away. Chad kept singing, closing out the bridge, the song kicking up into a higher register for a moment.


“OK,” the cop shouted as he dropped his gun into a small patch of crab grass.

In an instant, I pulled the gun off of Pam’s forehead, pulled open the door of the truck and loaded Billy in.

“I’m sorry it had to be this way Pam,” I said as I twisted the key in the ignition. She looked back at me blankly, saying nothing. “I really am.”

With that I slammed the truck into reverse, did a half donut onto the lawn and, dropped her into gear and sped off into the street. The cop scooped up his gun and took a few shots at the tires, but we were gone by the time he got to his car. Last thing I remember though wasn’t the gun shots or the truck’s engine racing. It was Chad hitting his big finish. His final break-your-heart, sustained-so-long-you-wonder-how-they-breathe high note fading into silence as Billy and me drove away from the house for good.

Friday, November 12, 2004



What do you do when you come home and find out your little boy just shot your neighbor’s son in the face, and there are cops in your house, and now someone else has been shot, and it might have even your son? How do you respond to that?

Keep in mind, I didn’t even know anything about Bridget yet. Dan had neglected to tell me that one. Sure, obviously I knew what Billy had done to me, but, as far as I was concerned, that was an accident. I had no reason to believe he was on some kind of spree. And believe you me if I did, you can bet I would have gotten home from the library a lot sooner than I did. Dan, of course, likes to blame me for my absence, but that’s just more of his posturing. Truth is, no matter where I was, I was looking out for my little boy. I might have had my eye off of him at the present moment, but that’s only because I was looking out for his future—out of pure instinct.

So here I am, getting out of my car, lugging a stack of books piled up to my chin, and my girlfriend Shelia grabs my arm.

“Don’t go in there,” she says. “The police are in there with your husband . . . and Billy.”

I looked behind her and I saw her son--whose name I think we’re still not allowed to say for legal reasons--I saw him sitting on the curb with his father holding a towel against the side of his face.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Billy shot him,” Shelia answered. “The bullet went right in his mouth. Then we heard another shot from inside the house . . .”

“What?” I dropped my textbooks all over the driveway.

“It’s OK, Mrs. Cullers,” the little boy said. “It doesn’t even hurt that much anymore.”

“Yes, but we’re still going to the hospital, young man,” Shelia said.

And now maybe this is the difference between me and Dan, but even after seeing this little boy who was shot in the face and feeling just as keen as I was after being shot, I wasn’t thinking of any kind of connection. I was just thinking about my little boy. Thinking that he was probably scared and didn’t know what to do. Thinking that he probably needed his mother.

Read Next Chapter



When we got home, I gave Billy the .22 I kept under the bed and sent him out to play in the backyard.

I needed to think

Like I’d said, I still had a lot to figure out. There was something else going on here besides gunshots and flesh wounds. It was something about the way that bullet just appeared in Bridget’s hands, the way those docs hovered over Pam. Something that told me that it wasn’t just about what had happened. It was about what was going to happen.

Plus, I needed to put together some kind of plan. After that stunt at the hospital the cops would probably be headed our way sooner rather than later regardless of how long it took them to find out the Magnum was registered in my name.

Of course, Pam wasn’t home yet. It was about two hours after she was due back from the library, and it was almost getting dark, but the house was empty.

And let’s just remember that before you start pointing all your fingers my way. You can think what you like about how I’ve raised my boy, but since this all began, you can say one thing about me that you sure as Samson can’t say about Pam—-I was there. I was making decisions on what was best for the future of my boy. Picking faults after the fact is as easy as picking your nose after a head-cold, but there’s the facts. Yours truly: present. Ms. Know-it-all, save-the-boy-from-himself-hero-mom: she was M.I.A.

I’d burned half a can of Spaggettios and was just getting ready to call Billy back in when I finally got her call.

“Look Dan,” she said. “You and Billy are going to have to fend for yourself tonight. I drove out to BCC”—that’s the local community college—“to talk to the director of their criminal psychology program. I probably won’t be home until after nine.”

It had only been three days of the new Pam, but I’d already drunk about two fingers past my fill. I asked her “what gives?” making it pretty damn clear that I wasn’t going to truck with any more of her not giving two farts for her own family.

“This is something I need to do for me,” she said, the tightness in her voice telling me she was frowning into the phone. I could just see her jutting out her chin in that little tough-gal pose that had looked so damned cute back in the days before I’d married the hell out of her. “I’ve lived the last three years of my life for the rest of the world. What happened the other day—the accident with the gun—it’s taught me that it’s high time I started letting my own feet fill the footprints of the rest of my life.”

Whatever the hell that meant I wouldn’t have time to find out, cause while Pam was going on about her footprints I heard the short loud crack of that .22 call out from the backyard.

I left the phone dangling from the cord in the kitchen, took the steps two at a time into the basement, and flew out our back door.

Sure enough, Billy had shot the little neighbor boy right through the mouth. Put a bullet between his open lips, through his parted teeth, and out the back side of his cheek.

Now, let me stop a second and tell you a little something about this kid to give you a full picture of all this. I can’t say his real name because you might know him, so let’s just call him Chad Woodlake.

Chad was a nice enough kid. He was six, but he horsed around with Billy when he was out in the neighborhood, anyway. He didn’t act like he was big shit just cause he was older and his dad worked up in the new phone company building and had enough dough to have both a swing set and one of them above-ground pools in the backyard.

His parents had different ideas though.
Somewhere along the way they’d gotten it into their heads that little Chad was special. He was born, they insisted, to be a singing star, and they sunk every dime they didn’t spend on swing sets and above ground pools into out-of-town music lessons for the boy. Then they drug him out to do the National Anthems at all the American Legion base ball games, got him booked doing Air Supply covers in that little gazebo in the food court in the mall, and lately had even floated a rumor that he just missed getting onto Star Search, which was still pretty new at the time, but a big deal all the same.

Now he was a good kid, sure, but you tell the truth, you’d have to say he wasn’t taking his dog and pony show any further than that food court. First off, he was cross-eyed as a flounder, but second, he sang straight up through his nose—sounded like a chipmunk hopped up on helium.

To his parents, though, he was the next Barry Manilow. So you can imagine, with him taking a bullet in the mouth and all, they were already throwing quite a fit.

The Woodlakes must have been outside when Billy shot Chad, cause by the time I got out there the mother was already kneeling over him, bawling herself sloppy while the father screamed at Billy. “What did you do?!” he shouted. “What did you do?!”

“He shot your ugly, tone-deaf son in the face, asshole, that’s what he did” is what I wanted to say, but I realized the situation called for a little more tact. So I just gave Billy a long cold look, snatched the .22 out of his hands, and tucked it into the back of my jeans.

“Didn’t want to take no nap,” Billy mumbled without looking up at me, but I couldn’t waste any time figuring out what he was talking about. I needed to check out the damage.

Of course, Chad was still blubbering when I crouched over him to see his face. But while I’m sure it stung and the blood scared him a bit, this was Billy’s cleanest shot yet.

“Look at that, he’s getting better with each one,” I said running my finger over the little bloody hole in the back of Chad’s cheek. “That’s clean enough to look like a blade did it. I mean that’s just not what bullets do. Even .22s.” I looked at the mother, but she didn’t say anything. Her mousy face just sort of crumbled at the edges as her eyebrows slid together as if to say, why are you touching my precious future star with your filthy hands?

I slid the tip of my pinky finger inside the hole, and Chad squealed out. So goddamned dramatic, you think they’d have chose acting lessons rather than singing. “This ain’t no bigger than the bullet,” I said. “You know anything about ballistics, and you’d scratch a hole in your head over this.”

The Woodlakes weren’t impressed. The mother just screamed at my face while the father pulled at my arms and shouted a rainbow mile of cuss words, but, sure enough, by the time they’d pulled Chad away from me, that little hole in his cheek had all but stopped bleeding.

“Throw a band-aid on it, and he’ll be fine by bed time,” I shouted as they carried him up the hill toward their car, which was parked out front three houses down. “Don’t waste your money on the hospital.”

Then I turned to Billy. “Take this and get inside,” I said tossing him the gun. “I’ll be back in a bit, and then we’ll sort this out.”

Billy went in through the back door, and I chased after the Woodlakes up around to the front, catching up to them just as they were trying to load the kid into their car. “Look,” I said holding my hands out at my side. “I know this has kind of got you all revved up, but it’s not as bad as it looks. If you would just let me look. We could really help each other out here.”

The mother turned back to me as the father struggled to load Chad—who was now kicking, clawing, and hissy-fitting about not wanting to go to the hospital—into the back seat of the car. “Look,” she said, struggling to control herself, still shaking like a twig in the mouth of a rabid dog. “I don’t know what you want from us, but our son needs medical attention now.”

“He don’t though,” I said. “That’s the thing. Look at him, he’s barely bleeding and he don’t want to go to the hospital. Hey Chad”—I stepped forward to call out to the boy over his father’s shoulders. You ain’t hurt that bad are you? You want to go to the hospital, or you want I should fix you up?”

“Stay the hell away from my son,” Mr. Woodlake screamed shoving me in the center of my chest, so hard that I had to take a step backwards and almost knock over his wife.

I tried to help her up, but she just cussed and slapped at my hands.
Then Chad finally stopped his wailing and spoke up for himself. “Daddy,” he said. “My cheek don’t hurt that bad. I don’t think I need to go to the hospital.”

Finally, I had somebody on my side here. But before I could make use of my new ally, another gunshot rang out, its crack distinct but slightly muffled, coming now from inside the house.

As we all spun our heads to look back at my house, I noticed that there was a cop car parked about two doors past it. I was wondering how long it had been there when I noticed that my front door was hanging open, and I realized I didn’t have time to wonder about shit anymore.

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