Fight & Revelation
weary Seeburg Select-O-Matic jukebox crouched beside the front
door of The Rebel Yell. The tenth playing that evening of Please
Come Home For Christmas was just ending. Across the room,
Sam, joints cheerless owner, stood behind a short bar with
several worn stools. Strings of Christmas lights acknowledged
the season and provided most of the illumination. An old, printed
sign taped to the cash register proclaimed, Youre
white today because your ancestors practiced segregation.
same lighting scheme extended into a large dance area lined with
plastic covered booths and small, scarred tables. The place had
a pervasive odor of beer, cigarette smoke, hair tonic, cheap aftershave,
Atkins stood next to the jukebox until he spotted Wheeler Sims
sitting at a front booth. The Rhodes brothers were with him. So
was Renee. With eyes you could get lost in and an ass to die for,
she was the best looking girl hed ever dated, much less
made love to.
called her a manipulative bitch and, just for good measure, white
trash. As usual, shed been right. Renee was also a racist,
so were a lot of other people Clay knew. He wasnt, but hed
lusted for her since junior high. Years of futility ended last
summer when they began dating, and then making love. But all that
ended last week, a lifetime ago.
jukebox screeched in protest as he pushed it away from the wall.
The needle settled back into a groove with Tammy Wynette spelling
out, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. She reached R before he found the power cord
and yanked hard. Lights went out and it ground into silence.
chorus of loud complaints erupted. People turned to see what happened.
Then, like a scene from an old western, everything got quiet.
the bar, Sam reached for his blackjack. Easy Sam.
Clay held up a hand. Stay where you are and Ill be
out of here in a second.
you need to come outside. Ill be waiting by your truck.
There some things we need to settle. You know what. If youre
not there in a few minutes, Ill leave a reminder on that
bird-shit yellow paint-job about when Ill be back. So you
might as well come on.
plugged the jukebox back in and left. Wheeler, along with Renee
and the Rhodes brothers plus most of the bars other patrons,
soon followed. They milled around in the frosty southern air while
he made a show of checking out the situation.
a loud, cocky voice, he asked, Okay, Im here. Whats
all this about?
started the church fire that killed Abby and Ike. It was
a statement, not a question.
tiny smirk flashed across Wheelers face. Then he put on
a show of indignation. Bull shit.
men stared at one another, until Wheeler looked over at the two
men standing beside Clays old Ford. What you doing
here, Hoss? Trying to keep Atkinss junker running?
hulking mechanic pointed at the three Rhodes brothers standing
near Wheeler. Thought Id come along to make sure this
is a fair fight, a one-on-one deal, and your little buddies stay
out of things.
undersized brothers, who preferred doing their brand of fighting
in dark, crowded bars, showed no interest in an outdoor encounter
with Hoss Driscoll. They smirked, but made no reply.
about you, Hemphill? said Wheeler. You want a part
me, said Bob. He used his thumb to gesture at Clay. Im
just here to make sure he doesnt kill you. Youre not
worth an involuntary manslaughter charge.
casual tone seemed to unsettle Wheeler. But he recovered and turned
to the large crowd clustered behind him. Well, I guess Atkins
aint gonna be happy until I kick his sorry candy-ass across
this parking lot. So lets get it over with. He punctuated
his final words by making a big production out of turning back
around to face Clay. What he saw seemed to surprise him.
the small, neon-lighted space, Clay stood shirtless. A second
summer spent wrestling with heavy, green, plank-road lumber had
put some impressive muscles on his arms and upper body. The chubby
junior high football player the two-year older Wheeler had once
beaten and humiliated now looked more than a match for his former
smiled, took off his cowboy hat, and handed it to Renee. Would
you mind holding this for a minute? Im not gonna take my
shirt off. Candy-ass might get all hot and bothered at the sight.
The crowd guffawed. Renee returned his smile and accepted the
the formalities over, Wheeler turned back, then moved forward,
talking loud and grinning. Without warning, he brought a vicious
left up from the hip.
had expected a sucker punch, but forgot Wheeler was a lefty. The
side of his head exploded with pain as the punch bounced off his
ear. He countered with a short left to the eye and a hard, straight
right to the jaw.
shook his head, then pressed in with a flurry of quick headshots.
Some landed, most missed. Then a sharp jab shook Clay and left
his mouth bleeding. It seemed to wake him up. Before, hed
been fighting more in grief than anger. Now a lifetime worth of
rage took over.
took two hard shots to the body, and stepped away. He paused to
rub at his swelling eye, then grinned and came on like a right-hander,
throwing a left-right combination. While Clay was no fighter,
thanks to his Golden Gloves father, he knew how to box. He parried
most of the blows, then countered with a jab that bloodied Wheelers
nose and followed that with a hard right to the gut. There was
a satisfying grunt of pain as air exploded from a gaping mouth.
breath now came in short, ragged gasps. He moved in again but
with caution, like a wounded animal. All his bluster was gone.
Clay half-expected him to make a rush and try to wrestle him down.
But after feinting with a right, Wheeler unleashed a savage left.
It was a haymaker, a desperate attempt at a knockout.
feint was good, but he telegraphed the big punch. Once again Clay
bobbed but felt the sting of knuckles banging off his already
punch left Wheeler off balance and vulnerable. A right slammed
into his mouth. Blood and spittle flew from busted lips. Eyes
snapped open wide in pain. A left rocked his head. He tried to
recover, to defend himself. But a right hammered him just below
the heart. He grunted, doubled over, and stumbled backward before
sinking to his knees.
hands propped on thighs, Wheeler Sims knelt, gasping for breath
and stared at the ground. A string of bloody drool trailed from
his swollen lips to the oil-stained gravel between his knees.
rubbed his throbbing ear, touched his busted lip, and then studied
his cut, aching knuckles. Finished with his self-exam, he walked
over and stood in front of the man who had killed Abby and Ike.
You did it, didnt you?
looked up and tried to glare at his opponent. He spit a glob of
blood onto the ground between Clays boots. What the
fuck you talking about, candy-ass?
must be proud of being stupid. Clays voice was unemotional,
almost resigned. But, maybe youre counting on me being
a nice guy. You know, the kind who always plays by the rules and
would never hit a defenseless man. But just between you and me,
I wouldnt count on that any more.
fist smashed into the unprotected face looking up at him. There
was a crunch of breaking cartilage. Blood spewed from a shattered
nose. Wheelers head jerked back. His body twisted and he
crashed to the ground.
Rhodes brother made a move to come and help, but Hoss motioned
him back. Wheeler struggled to roll over, then got to his hands
stepped closer and spoke in a low, patient voice. Now lets
try that again. But this time, itll just be between you
and me. You did it, didnt you? You torched that church.
was a pause, then a nod. Wheelers lips were split and swollen,
his voice a bit garbled. But I swear no one was inside.
And Im, Im sorry about your girl. But why in hell
did she and that nigger go running in there?
reaction was immediate, instinctive, and brutal. He stepped forward
and kicked his beaten opponent in the ribs. The work boots
steel toe landed with a sickening thud and the sound of something
cracking. Wheeler tumbled onto his side, screaming in pain, and
tried to curl into a protective ball. This time, Hoss had to take
two steps forward to intimidate the Rhodes brothers.
knelt on one knee and studied his long-time rival. Can you
was a soft moan, then, Yeah.
me tell you something, Sims. Abby Marshall wasnt just my
girl, she was my best friend, my fiancée. Id loved
her all my life but was too dumb to know that, then too afraid
of losing her to admit it, besides, there was Bebe. When I finally
managed to figure things out, you killed her.
were heading home to tell everyone Abby and I were engaged. Ike
was with us. Our realizing we were in love, that was his doing.
Then we saw the fire, and thought Ikes folks were inside.
Rev. Carters got a bum leg. I was driving. They were out
of the car and at the church door before I could get stopped.
looked over to where Renee stood motionless, watching. Someone
else had the cowboy hat. Maybe it clashed with her designer jeans
and that fitted western shirt with all its unused snaps. There
was a look of surprise on her perfect oval face, but also a familiar,
when he understood why Wheeler had burned the church. But Clay
then knew, that beyond any hope of forgiveness, he was also responsible
for the deaths of Abby and Ike. He shook his head in disgust and
looked back at Sims. And you, you poor, stupid, son-of-a-bitch,
you killed her trying to impress Renee, because shed dropped
you and started dating me?
what do you know? Clay looked almost amused. After
all these years, you and I have something in common. Weve
both made fools of ourselves, not to mention killers, because
shifted and spit some blood on the ground. Now about that
guy you killed. His name was Ike Carter, and he was another one
of my best friends. In fact, he and Abby, the three of us, wed
been friends all our lives. But then you killed em trying
to impress Renee. And I want you to get this straight, Wheeler,
I want you to understand, Ike was black, but he wasnt a
nigger. Is that clear?
nodded, then flinched as Clay reached towards him, only to flick
a brown oak leaf off his shoulder.
the leaf disposed of, Clay continued. Now, listen close.
Maybe I shouldnt have busted up your ribs. But I figure
you still owe me for two lives. That doesnt count what you
owe the Carters and Marshalls and a lot of other decent folks,
not to mention your Maker. Thats between you and them.
a moment, Clay studied the man at his feet. Im going
away for a while, but I will be back. And if I hear that you or
any of your crowd has hurt any of my friends or called anybody
I know a nigger, Ill hunt you down and, unless you kill
me first, Ill leave you a cripple. Do you believe me?
good. Just remember, you didnt kill all my friends. Ive
still got a few left. And I know a whole bunch of people around
here. So you be good now, Wheeler, cause just like Santa
Claus, Ill know if youve been nice. And with Renee
as a Christmas present, you dont need any more enemies.
Fullerton's short fiction has appeared in several publications,
including: USADeepSouth, DeadMule.com, and Rose and Thorn. A resident
of Austin, Texas, his second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles,
was a named a semi-finalist in the Faulkner competition and a
finalist by the Santa Fe Writer's Project.