Big Ty was just reaching for the keys still stuck in the slot of the trunk’s lock mechanism, when Dec did something really stupid.
All this time we’d been watching this spectacle in the street, both Dec and I had completely forgotten about our argument over the long-lasting flavor of gum. Remember? I was promoting Juicy Fruit, while Dec’s vote was on Bazooka. Well, as it was, Dec finally remembered to chew. And after a couple chews, he did what naturally came next. Dec blew a bubble.
We both knew at the same time that Dec had made a serious mistake. He froze, staring wide-eyed at me as I did the same. It was like the time Dec farted in church. He just didn’t think straight. He simply felt a gas bubble coming on, lifted his leg, and let her rip. Farts make a lot of noise on hard, old oak wood pews. And boy, Dec’s ripper was no exception. It turned every head in Saint Joseph’s congregation. Even Father Murphy, our parish priest, was left speechless at the thunderous explosion. And before he could carry on with his sermon, with all eyes locked on us, Dec did a thing I’d never even think of doing. It was deceitful. It was disgusting. It was, later one of the most hilarious pranks Dec had ever pulled. And we laughed our butts off about it many times after.
With one word, Dec turned everyone’s stares away from him. Dec shifted the blame of that sputter-knock-knock-boom, from himself and his guilty butt, to me! “Hawk!” he gasped in feigned amazement.
Then he nudged me, and I turned a bright red with shame as everyone in the congregation at St. Joe’s wrongly assumed that I had let the fart in church. It was like that now, without really thinking, Dec had blown that gigantic bubble and froze, realizing he was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
No! I said inside my head. Don’t let that bubble pop now!
But it was like that big pink bubble had a life of it’s own. And Pop! suddenly echoed between the leafy branches and carried all the way over to Ty Burke reaching for those keys. Ty looked directly up at our hiding place, looking like a mountain lion ready to pounce. Dec and I back stepped away from the railing of our tree fort, wishing we could disappear. Or blend so well with the branches that we simply became a part of that old oak tree.
Big Ty, keeping his eyes on the tree, started across the street. He was almost there, and could almost see us trying hard to blend with the branches, when my dad stepped out of the work shed to one side of our house.
“What in hell happened over there, Ty?” my dad asked.
To our instant relief, Ty Burke turned away from our hiding place and joined my dad, Amos Hawkins.
Together they walked back over to stare down at Jonathan Kennedy laying dead there in the street.
A few minutes later, Sheriff Mac pulled up in his squad car.
A minute after that, my Uncle Bill, the town fire chief, pulled up in his firetruck with four of his men.
While Ty filled Sheriff Mac in on the details of finding Jonathan Kennedy gunned down by Henry McGinn, my dad and his brother, Bill, took a long look at the dead Jonathan Kennedy.
My dad said something to Bill, and they both chuckled softly, then abruptly fell silent when Sheriff Mac quietly said, “Let’s have some respect, boys. I know how you both feel about the Kennedy clan, but we’ve got us a damned serious situation here. A young man gunned down in the prime of his life is not a matter that should amuse you two, but shame on you if it does!”
It wasn’t long before twenty to thirty nosey neighbors filed out of the surrounding houses, some lining up on Elk Street while the others gathered in a curious huddle on Court. Dec and I didn’t know then what took those folks so long to come out of their houses to investigate the shooting that must have sounded like cannon fire in our small town. Later, we learned that most of those folks had been glued to their TV sets, sadly watching events unfold in Dallas, Texas where some fellow named Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down President Kennedy. The news in Dallas was so overwhelming to most folks that the shooting in our town took second place.
“I’ll be damned!” Deputy Noah Berry said as he joined Sheriff Mac thirty feet from the tree where we were hidden. “Absolutely ironic, don’t you think, Mac?”
Big, tall, dark-haired Sheriff Mac looked like Deputy Noah had just thrown a cold bucket of water on him, bringing him awake from a bad dream. Mac jerked his head up from studying Jonathan Kennedy’s body. “What say you, Noah?” Mac asked him.
“Two Kennedy’s in one day,” Deputy Noah said. “Absolutely ironic is what this is, Mac!”
Sheriff Mac quietly said, “More like tragic and sad, I’d say, Noah. Why don’t you and Ty drive Henry down to the station? I’ll wait here for the tow trucks and Clive from the mortuary to show up. Soon as I get this mess cleaned up, I’ll be down to question Henry.”
“Sure enough, Mac,” Noah said in his usual cheerful voice. It was plain, Noah Berry didn’t feel no pity for this particular dead Kennedy. No pity at all. No, it was business as usual for jolly ol’ heavyset Noah.
“Hey, Amos,” Noah greeted my dad as he walked across the street toward Ty. “Did you see what happened here?”
My dad and my Uncle Bill both turned away from speaking with Big Ty. Both men had hair as black as crow feathers as most of the Hawkins clan did in Beatrice, but where Bill was beer-barrel round like a weathered old keg, my dad, his younger brother, was lean and trim. The difference between the two brothers, my dad once said, was on account of their two different professions.
My dad, being the town’s one and only tree trimmer, had to use his body every day, climbing trees like a jungle monkey, sometimes balancing on spindly branches that even fidgety squirrels wouldn’t dare set paws upon.
“Yes,” Amos told Bill one night at our dinner table, “the reason I stay in such good shape is that I’m active every day, trimming trees, while you just sit on your fat ass waiting for a fire to start somewhere!”
Everyone at our dinner table laughed, Bill the hardest, because he never did take offence at my dad’s kidding. As brothers go, they were pretty close, and I can’t say I ever heard them argue unless talk about the Kennedy clan came up. Then and only then, did Amos and Bill Hawkins ever disagree. Which I’ll explain later on in this story.
But right then, right there down in the street below Dec and I, my dad said, “No. I can’t tell you what I didn’t see. I was in my work shed using the grinder. Hell, I thought I heard gunshots, but I couldn’t be sure. Not until I came out to find Big Ty wandering around in the street looking white as Caspar the Ghost!”
“Did no one see what happened here?” Sheriff Mac called out to all the neighbors gathered on Court and Elk street. “Any one of you want to make a statement?”
It got quiet down there on the street. Both crowds in their huddled gatherings, stared back at their town sheriff and offered nothing by way of explanation as to what had taken place.