Dec and I stood up higher on our toes, both of us craning our necks so that we, too, could see inside of that trunk. Of course, we saw nothing as Ty hastily slammed the trunk lid closed. 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 Juicy Fruit or 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 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, shifting the blame for that sputter-knock-knock-boom from himself and his guilty butt, to me! “Hawk!” he gasped in feigned amazement.
I turned 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. 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 leafless branches and carried all the way over to Ty Burke reaching for those keys. Ty looked directly up at our hiding place. Dec and I back stepped away from the railing of our tree fort, wishing we could disappear. 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 some distance behind our fort.
“What in hell happened over there, Ty?” Dad asked.
To our instant relief, Ty Burke turned away from our hiding place and joined my dad, Amos Hawkins, as he walked over to stare down at Jon 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 Jon Kennedy gunned down by Henry McGinn, Uncle Bill discovered the billfold that had fallen from the man’s pocket. He scooped it up and took the liberty to open it and read the guy’s driver’s license. Uncle Bill let out a shrill whistle.
“Well, now,” he said to my dad, “this guy’s name was Jon Kennedy! What’s the chances of two Jon Kennedy’s being shot on the same day? One down in Dallas, the other one right here!”
“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. Sheriff Mac quietly said, “More like tragic and sad, Noah.”
It wasn’t long before twenty nosey neighbors filed out of the surround-ing houses, some lining up on Elk Street while the others gathered in a curious huddle on 8th. 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 man gunned down President Kennedy. The news in Dallas was so overwhelming to most folks that the shooting in our town took second place.
Sheriff Mac said, “Noah, 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. He turned to greet my dad as he walked across the street. My dad and my Uncle Bill 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. Dad, being the town’s tree trimmer, had to use his body every day, climb-ing 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 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.
“Did anyone see what happened here?” Sheriff Mac called out to all the neighbors gathered on Elk street.
It got quiet down there on the street. The crowd stared back at their town sheriff and offered nothing by way of explanation as to what had taken place. Dec and I shared a knowing look. We knew. We saw it all. We could tell Sheriff Mac everything he needed to know about the crash that resulted in the shooting incident. Dec and I could give him a full account. But we weren’t supposed to be there. No, we were thought to be in school getting educated. How could we explain what we were doing in our tree fort in the middle of a school day?
An argument suddenly erupted down there in the street. “Sheriff’s orders!” Deputy Noah boomed. “You wanna stick around here! I’m not taking any guff off you, boy! Just do as you’ve been told!”
Big Ty towered over Noah by a good six inches, but squat, broad-shouldered Noah was standing right up to him and not backing down an inch. Ty growled, “I won’t be having you order me around, Noah!”
The thing is, no one there thought it was anything out of the ordinary when Ty refused to simply follow Noah’s orders. The two lawmen were always having a spat about one thing or another. It just seemed natural that Big Ty would go blowing off at Deputy Noah, refusing to obey any order he might have given. Sheriff Mac, who was kneeling down beside Jon Kennedy, looked up to see his two lawmen glaring at each other. He offered Big Ty a stern look.
Ty gave a defiant snort, then stomped over to his squad car, climbed inside, and after starting it up, he promptly drove Henry down to jail.
Which is how Jon Kennedy’s car keys got left in the trunk lid.
Which called out to Dec and I up there in our tree fort.
Which led to nothing but trouble later.