Sunday, December 01, 2013


It was an early morning in June and there was a light rain. We were headed west on Highway 67 to the Brazos River. I was driving.

“I hope this rain stops,” I said.

“It will,” said Jim. “The weatherman says it will clear out of here before the morning is over. It’s gonna’ be a perfect day.”

It was not a long drive. We reached the river in less than half-an-hour, and on the east side of the bridge pulled up in front of a canoe rental place and went inside. The rain had let up and now the sun was breaking through the clouds.

“You were right,” I said. “Looks like it’s gonna’ be a perfect day.”

We rented an aluminum canoe. It came with paddles and two life jackets. A big guy named loaded it into the back of a pickup. We transferred our sleeping bags, ice chest, sacks of food, and other items from my car into the pickup. Then we hopped in and Buddy drove us to the drop-off point several miles to the south.

As we bumped along the dirt road, Buddy looked at Jim and said, “You’ve been out here before, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” said Jim, “a couple of years ago.”

“I thought so,” said Buddy. “That feller that was with you, did he live?”

“You mean Eddie Ray,” said Jim, with a chuckle. “Yeah, he lived. We got him to the hospital.”

“Heat stroke, wasn’t it?”


“I knew it. Well, I hope you brought along some water this time.”

“We brought water last time, but all Eddie Ray would drink was beer.”

Buddy laughed, shaking his head. “Well, I'm glad he lived. Some of 'em don't.”

At the drop-off point, Buddy helped us unload. Then he said, “Well, you know what to do. When you get back, leave the canoe under the bridge and come and get me.”

Buddy drove away. Jim and I pushed the canoe into the shallow water and started packing it. We did so carefully, but once the canoe tipped, almost spilling everything.

“We should tie this stuff down,” I said. “If it tips out in the middle of the river, we could lose everything. Do you have anything to tie it with?”

“I’ve got some bungee cord, but it’s at home.”

“Well, it won’t do us any good there.”

“Aw, don’t worry about it,” said Jim. “Last time I was out here we had two canoes and neither one tipped. This isn’t the Guadalupe. There’s no rapids on this river. Once we start moving, it’ll be smooth sailing. You just have to be careful—don’t move around a lot, don’t stand up.”

“Yeah, I know that much.”

When we finished packing the canoe, I held it steady while Jim climbed into the bow, crouching low to keep his body weight low. Then I did the same as I climbed into the stern while Jim steadied the canoe with his paddle.

“What about these life jackets?” I asked.

“We don’t need them,” said Jim. “Like I say, there’s no rapids. This’ll be a smooth ride. But—” he picked up his life jacket “—they make good cushions. These seats are hard and we’re going to be sitting a long time.”

This sounded like a good idea, so I followed Jim’s example and placed my life jacket on the metal seat. For added comfort, we kicked off our shoes.

“Ready?” said Jim.


Comfortably seated on our life jackets, we rowed away from the shady bank out onto the sparkling river.

There was no one else on the river at that hour, so it was perfectly quiet—just the splash of the oars and the cooing of a dove somewhere on shore. And high above the tall oaks and pecan, the clouds continued to break up, revealing a wondrous blue sky. All so reminiscent of so many June mornings I had known in North Texas long ago. I was at peace, more at peace than I had been in years.

I’ve missed this old river, I thought …

(To be continued …)

OH HOLY NIGHT, The Conclusion

Charlie went around the side of the bridge and started down the incline towards the dry creek bed.

“Slow down, Charlie,” said Margaret in his head, “or you’ll fall.”

Charlie slowed down just in time to keep from slipping on the steep incline.

“And be quiet, Charlie,” said Margaret. “Be quiet as a mouse.”

Charlie moved slow, and was quiet as he crept forward.

Level with the creek bed now, he heard a woman sobbing underneath the bridge, and also heard a man’s voice say, “Shut up.”

Charlie’s heart was pounding. He took a deep breath and moved forward, holding his nine-iron high. Peering into the darkness, he was able to make out a moving figure. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness. Then he made out two people: a woman lying on the ground with a man moving on top of her.

“Now,” said Margaret.

Charlie took another deep breath and stepping forward swung the nine-iron straight into the right side of the man’s head, knocking him sideways off the woman.

The man grunted in pain and rolled out from under the bridge into the light where Charlie could see him clearer. To Charlie's surprise, he saw that the man was a cop and his pants were down.

The cop was not moving. He’s out, thought Charlie, and turning to the woman bent down to help her up.

“Look out!” said a young male voice from the other side of the bridge.

Charlie whirled around and saw the cop aiming his gun. Charlie swung the nine-iron into the cop’s hand, knocking the gun away.

The cop started crawling towards the gun. Charlie swung again, this time striking the cop’s head, and swung it again and again until there was the sound of something hard suddenly going soft and the cop was still.

“Holy fuck!” shouted the young man. “You killed him!”

“Oh my god,” said Charlie, gasping for breath. “I killed a cop.”

“Don’t worry,” said the young man, “I got it all on video.”

The young man was Mystik and he was holding a camera.

“Night vision lens,” he said proudly. “All I need is an Internet connection and this goes viral.”

Charlie was still staring at the body. “Oh my god …”

“Get these handcuffs off me!” shouted the young woman.

Mystik bent down over the cop’s body and found the key to the handcuffs. Then he freed Heather …

* * *

Mystik had been flying down Hammond Street on his skateboard when he came upon the scene: a patrol car by the side of the road, lights flashing, and a citizen’s car in front of it, both empty and no one around, and a woman screaming underneath the bridge.

Mystik hopped off his skateboard into the tall weeds and listened. He heard a man’s voice say “Shut up.”

Then he heard a car door slam on the other side of the bridge. Peering over the weeds, he saw an elderly man with a golf club marching towards the bridge.

Then Mystik heard a voice in his head—it was Roach, saying, “Do it, buddy.”

Mystik opened his backpack, and grabbing his new night-vision lens snapped it onto his camera and sliding down the dirt incline towards the creek bed began recording the cop raping the woman and also recorded the elderly man beating the cop on the head …

* * *

“Oh my god,” Charlie said again.

“Goddamn you were good,” said Mystik. “You killed him!”

Heather fell into Charlie’s arms, sobbing. Charlie put his arms around her, but could not keep his eyes off the lifeless body on the ground.

“We gotta’ get out of here, man,” said Mystik. “I need an Internet connection. Now.”

“I’ve got one,” said Charlie.

The three hurried up to Charlie’s car and Charlie started driving home. On the way, they passed Heather’s apartment complex. Heather saw Jim pacing around on the street; he was anxious, waiting for her to come home.

“Stop!” she shouted. Charlie stopped.

Heather rolled down the window. “Jim!” she cried.

Her face was so bloody and bruised Jim did not recognize her at first. When he did, he ran forward. “What happened?”

“I’m okay,” she said. “These men helped me.”

“Get in!” yelled Mystik.

Jim got in the car and held Heather in his arms.

“I know you two,” said Charlie as he sped away. “You’re the ones who were at the AA meeting …”

* * *

It was the next night, Christmas Eve.

Charlie thought, God this heartburn is killing me.

He took his antacid, but it did not help. In fact, he felt worse. The pain spread to his stomach and he had trouble breathing, causing him to panic.

I’m having an anxiety attack, he thought. I should lie down.

He had some Temazepam but couldn’t find it. Never mind, he thought. It never worked. Just lay down and breathe. It always worked before.

He lay down, and breathed, and in a little while fell asleep.

And woke up some hours later, feeling better … and heard music coming from the living room. Christmas music. It was that old LP Margaret always played this time of year, Pete Fountain playing Christmas music Dixieland style.

And there was a wonderful smell wafting from the kitchen. He recognized it right away: Margaret baking her usual Christmas specialties.

Charlie threw off the covers and got up. He went into the kitchen and walked up behind Margaret and put his arms around her, and she turned around and kissed him and told him to sit down.

He did as she said, then she went on with her baking, and asked him, “Charlie, how did it go? Did you reunite the young couple?”

“Yes, I did,” he said, laughing, “and it was wonderful. They love each other so much. And they miss their boy and want so bad to be sober.”

“Did you give them the money?”

“I did. It was hard, but I did.”

“All of it?”

“I gave them every last bit of it, Margaret.”

“And what about Mystik and his video?”

Charlie laughed out loud. “The video went viral just like he said it would. Which is why I’m so tired. The news stations have been interviewing me all day. It’s worn me out.”

She went on working and Charlie’s heart soared watching her. He said, “That young Mystik is great. He reminds me of me, before I went to ‘Nam.”

Margaret turned. “Charlie, I have something to show you.”

She led him to the back door and onto the patio and pointed into the sky. Charlie looked up and saw a beautiful circle of light. Margaret held him and they kissed and watched the light together as it expanded and encompassed them.

They giggled like teenagers as they were carried into the sky.

* * *

Not far away, Mystik, Jag, and Zoop were sitting on the top of a parking garage, smoking a joint, and they saw the light too.

“Whoa man,” said Jag, pointing.

Zoop said, “That’s fucking awesome.”

Mystik was silent a long time watching the light grow. Then he said, “It’s Heaven, that's what it is, and it's Roach saying goodbye …”

* * *

Heather and Jim were sitting on the patio, holding each other, and they saw the light. And Heather said, “Oh no Jim, it’s coming from Charlie’s house.”

* * *

Preacher Bob, Tuffy, and six other homeless men were drinking beer and singing Christmas carols under the stars, and they saw the light.

When the light suddenly disappeared, Tuffy said, “What the hell was that, Preacher Bob? Some kind of fireworks?”

“I don’t know what it was,” said Preacher Bob, “but it was prettiest blasted thing I ever saw—”

Then he took a swallow of beer and led the men in the rest of the song …

"Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name."