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Authors: Darryl Wimberley

Strawman's Hammock

BOOK: Strawman's Hammock
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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Epilogue

Also by Darryl Wimberley

Copyright

Acknowledgments

It is a pleasure to be able to thank some of the many folks who helped me write this book. Russell Mobley is an unselfish source for fact and procedure, as are the ladies and gentlemen at the Live Oak office for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Thanks also go to Lieutenant Buddy Williams of Live Oak's municipal force and to Sheriff Dwayne Walker from Lafayette County. A little further down the road I found great support from Dr. Michael Warren and Dr. Anthony Falsetti at the University of Florida's Human Identification Lab. Thanks go, once again, to my classmates Rowdy and No-Neck and, with love and affection, to my wife, Doris, daughter, Morgan, and son, Jack.

And thanks, finally and always, to my readers.

One

Northern Florida. Near the coast, the Gulf side. The first frost of the year bit deeply for those unaccustomed. A leaden sky hung low and bruised, like a boxer's ribs. A pleasant aroma of coffee mingled with the resins of conifers and cypress that arbored the campsite. That, and the sweet smell of blood. The deer, a Virginia whitetail, hung by his hind feet from a pair of four-by posts in front of the shack that constituted the Loyds' camphouse. A pair of tenacula pierced the buck's Achilles tendons to support that weight, jerry-rigged hooks anchored head-high in their wooden frame. A nice six-point rack raked the sand below into unintelligible grafitti. Saul's dreams writ large on the forest floor.

A deep ravine carved up the buck's crotch, through his belly and broken ribs to the throat. The guts were being removed, the source of bacteria and the organs most likely to spoil the meat if inexpertly handled. A five-gallon pickle bucket placed below caught the slippery mess of integument that ran with the deer's disembowelment, a rude catch basin for the blood and leavings that would be buried far from camp both to avoid the recent and unwelcome attention of coyotes imported into the wood and waterlands of northern Florida, and to refuse encouragement to the insects always ready, even in this autumnal chill, to feed.

A compact man in his fifties butchered the deer with a gray Case hunting knife honed with years of sandstone and skinning, and soaked with blood filling his hand. Linton Loyd exuded an unquestioned authority in this setting, holding forth like a surgeon on the correct procedure for skinning wildlife to a bullpen of subordinates hatted in baseball caps. Bring along plenty of fresh water to wash the carcass. Avoid puncturing the bladder. Protect the meat. Linton liked talking. He liked having folks listen.

Barrett Raines huddled against a bone-cold wind, pulling a frayed billcap tightly onto a broad head, sipping coffee from a porcelain mug chipped so as to abrade his lip with every swig. He was removed from the evisceration of the deer and distant from the surgeon's circle, the only man of any color other than white among the dozen or so who mingled in jeans and jackets and Red Wing boots around the carcass and campfire.

He had not slept well. The Dream, again, had come to inflict what his wife dubbed “the wearies.” “Daddy's got the wearies,” was all that Laura Anne would say, when the boys, sensing their father's melancholy, and seeing the sap of energy from his otherwise ursine frame, would inquire. She did not want to tell them about The Dream. Neither did their father.

It was always the same. He was returned to childhood in a twilight between memory and nightmare, a boy barely nine years old. The dream would start with some innocent activity, chasing a tire, making a fort. And then for no apparent reason he was running, running, running—

Through the dark mouth of a shotgun shack and into a closet. The door slammed. He was trapped. It was a small closet, filled with laundry. Jeans and gingham and flannel. It was odd, because daytime memories recalled that hollow space as a haven, a retreat from the man outside who, drinking hard, raised his fist against his wife and sons. The flannel was recalled fondly in the light of day.

But not at night. In Barrett's dream the closet was a place folded onto itself, a place where your chest constricted as in cardiac arrest. The closet was not in fact a space at all but a cloying hand pressed velvet and dark over your face and you could not, could not breathe.

He would suck for all he was worth against that press of dark but there would be no air. The nightmare played out in suffocation, Barrett struggling to find breath, terrified, his heart hammering—

Help!

He would try to scream but no sound would come. The only sounds to be heard were outside the closet, in the bedroom.
“Don't, please,”
a woman's voice.

“Don't do it, Randall!”

The slap of leather on an arm. Then perhaps a buckle across bruised flesh. A fist. A woman's scream. He had heard the belt before. Heard the unmistakable reunion of knuckle on bone. But it was not the sounds that evoked The Dream and the suffocation so vividly.

It was the smells.

The most vivid sensation in his nightmare was olfactory. He could smell fear in the dirty clothes tossed onto the floor of the closet. Fear in blue jeans. Terror in flannel. He would fight to find air in a pair of socks and smell his mother. And then—another smell. Smelled before felt or seen. A length of hardwood. Something hard and round. Perfectly lathed and balanced. It came to his hand.

“Fuckin' bitch!”

A sudden, slender line of light as the door began to open, just the merest thread of illumination, the door opening—

That's where it ended, always, and Barrett would wake in his bed choking for air. Sometimes Laura Anne would bring him a paper bag from the kitchen.

“Just pull it tight,” she would say. “Breathe in easy. Out slow. Come on, baby. You know what to do.”

It was a nightmare that, as most, stopped short of revelation. Once awake, Barrett seldom returned to sleep. He would go to the living room, usually, try to set the fan on the air conditioner to run continuously, some soothing sound to take away the sound of fists and the nightmare smell of flannel and something else, always something else—that stayed in dreams.

Just out of reach.

The Dream had come last night. In his bunk. He had no idea what triggered that midnight horror. Laura Anne was not there, in this camp of hunters, to help him breathe, so he crept from his rude crib like a shamed child and slipped outside. The frosty air helped. It filled his lungs with icy air. And then he waited for dawn to come, which it did. Along with the wearies.

Time to shake off the night, Barrett told himself. Problems enough in daylight.

He glanced to the gallows that held the deer. Linton was bloodied to the elbow in his work, but the lecture, Barrett could see, would finish soon. He sampled his morning java at a remove from Linton Loyd and his cabal of killers, but Barrett knew them well.

Raines had, in fact, known most of the men here since childhood. Most of them were on Linton's private land by invitation. These hunters, unlike Linton, were not in the big money. Rolly Slade, for example, a local mechanic self-sustained for forty years repairing everything from lawn mowers to jet skis, was now facing bankruptcy. “I'm owna sell ever'thing I can,” Rolly confided, “and then shut down. Cut my losses.” Sharold Lawson was in similar straits, forced to sell his tobacco allotment and dairy. Some even said he was carving up his riverfront property into lots for auction. How would he get by? Lawson shrugged. “Out for hire, I guess. Paper mill in Perry, maybe. Or maybe the prison.”

The prison. At a time when companies like Dell and ADM and Motorola were recruiting wage earners from all over the nation, the Mayo Correctional Facility was the employer of choice in Lafayette County. They didn't tell you when they came selling prisons that the term “minimum security” was not a commitment to a permanent status, but a way to counter local opposition to “the facility's” initial construction. A jail's transition from minimum, to medium, to maximum security was not so much a slippery slope as a greased track. Within four years of its construction the prison was harboring violent felons, a change in status made with no compunction to seek approval from the local and law-abiding population. Guards initially employed to secure a population of drunken drivers and petty thieves now risked exposure to shivs, ice picks, and AIDS. All in return for regular wages, health insurance, and the chance at a state pension.

Not every man or woman was driven to such a pass, of course. Take Thurman Shaw, for instance, hanging there on Linton's elbow like a dying calf in a hailstorm. You'd never guess by looking that Thurman had made himself a pile of money standing in courthouses all the way from Cedar Keys to Perry. A hell of a lawyer, a small, fiesty advocate, with a comb of red hair like a rooster.

Barrett would never forget the homicide that put his own brother in Thurman's hands. That case had driven Raines off his beloved Deacon Beach and north to Tallahassee and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Barrett didn't see much of Thurman while working in the sunshine state's moss-shaded capitol but a requested transfer to the FDLE's field office in Live Oak had brought Raines closer to the home and family he desperately missed—closer to his wife and boys, closer to the beach, closer to folks like Thurman Shaw. Closer, as well, to Linton Loyd.

Loyd got the deer with a single shot, admirers reported. Just after first light. A hundred yards with iron sights. Right behind the shoulder. Linton slashed the deer's throat, on the spot, opening the carotids for a quick bleed before slinging the kill over his shoulder and then onto the hood of his Cherokee, a trophy to be seen and envied by luckless hunters puncutating the sandy, rutted roads that snaked back to Linton's camp.

The county's game warden had already inspected the deer. Lieutenant Jarold Pearson went on to make his rounds, checking the licenses of the gathered hunters and ensuring that their armory of shotguns and rifles did not exceed the state's five-shell limit. It was not until these neccessary tasks were completed that the warden strolled over to join Barrett at the fire-blacked pot. Jarold was a shade taller than Barrett, but lean as a rail, with a weather-tanned face beneath hair white as salt. His skull was unusually shaped, narrowed savagely at the temples as if pulled at birth with an overeager forceps.

Growing up, Jarold had endured any number of taunts because of his appearance, because of that unnaturally narrowed cranium and those close-set eyes. It didn't help that he grew up in a county and culture where any noted difference was subject to instant ridicule.
Grouper Head,
he was called.
Squash. Fish.
Barrett was ashamed to admit that he had, on one occasion, joined the mob to torment Jarold Pearson.

Barrett and Jarold used to ride the same bus to school every morning. Though Deacon Beach's high school had been integrated in the sixties, Barrett was the only African American boy in his freshman class. The only black kid of his age on the bus. When Barrett first rode the bus he was ostracized in much the same way as was Jarold Pearson. The comments would come behind his back or barely concealed.
Goddamn nigger. Jungle bunny.
Things like that.

BOOK: Strawman's Hammock
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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