Written By Mike Haines
"Ever really look at a jack ass?" Dick asked the television, "I mean, there aren't many animals more royal then a jack ass." He paused, then interjected a correction, "cept maybe the jenny." He lifted his cup of ginseng laced tea and toasted the evening news. I brown jack ass pulled a wagon loaded down with school children down the Mulhall city street. A banner posted across the rear of the cart announced that the Tatum County 4H Club sponsored the float. Dick sneezed. He reached down and pulled a large tuff of covers up closer to his chest. Heat radiated from him.
Dick leaned to his left and fell onto the arm of his threadbare couch. Placing his cup on the end table, he burrowed into the quilted cave, covering his eyes. Hot breath washed across his face. This wasn't Dick's idea of luxurious living but it was a far cry better then chasing two kids and vomiting in thirty minute intervals. A friend had volunteered to watch Chance and Sammy for the evening and Dick was trying to pull out of a long bout with the flu. He opened his eyes, looking through a small crease in the quilt to catch the next story on the rural news. It appeared that Jerry Lynx, the state representative for the district was in town fund raising. "Another jack ass" He said, "Salute." More tea.
Daily life found Dick a cynical type. His job at the traffic and safety department had evaporated. He had little power to stop it. The men that worked near him at least pittied him. Some of them even offered to help if they could. The one emotion they didn't have for him was respect. In law enforcement, respect was irreplaceable. Dick had none. He sneezed again. "Dangit."
The tea was having little affect on his sinuses, but the quart of bourbon he stirred into the mixture was beginning lubricate everything else. He clacked his teeth together loudly and smiled. They were numbing. He was well on his was to a medicated state. He would sleep well tonight and then he decided to sink deeper into his covers.
The quilts smelled like fall. As the TV slipped into the background, he breathed in fragrances and the memories that came with them. When he married, he was only 16 years old. His bride was a budding 22. She was a fair-haired beauty, to Dick. Her plump cheeks blushed pink above her wedding gown. Below her ample bosom, she was pregnant as one of the pimples on Dick's pubescent forehead. They were married among the leaves.
The papers announced the expectant day as the "Dick and Jane Nuptials." His friends painted "See Dick Marry" on the back of his white '72 Plymouth Fury. The wedding was held outside in a natural oak canopy in Davenport City Park, where they both lived at the time. The canopy was the favorite site of senior pictures, weddings, and Sunday afternoon football games. Even now Dick felt truly happy remembering their time together in the glow of a mid morning sun surrounded by falling leaves. That day among the twelve guests, Dick stood alone with his wife. Not even Jane's father could spoil the perfection of the moment. "Jack Ass," Dick said in mid thought.
Although love may not have been Jane's strongest suit, she tried hard. While Dick attended school from 8 " 3 every day, Jane worked at a local pet store until she was 8-1/2 months pregnant. After Sammy was born, Jane waited a year before going back to work. She breast fed until she dried up, and doted over the girl always. Dick worked at a convenience store from 3:30 until 11:30 at night, but the $200/wk he brought home wasn't enough to live on. In desperation, Jane offered to ask her father if they could move into his home. Dick fought against the thought, but when Jane's father heard from Jane that they were considering the idea, he insisted.
Harris Branscum had few boundaries in his life. Jane was one of 7 children born to a man with no formal job structure. Harris lived on the family farm and as he put it, "lived off of the land." The farm was acquired in the land rush of 1907. The "lived off of" was supplied by the 40 acres of marijuana he had growing on it. The marijuana was grown, cured, bagged and sold right there in his 3 bedroom shanty on a bluff over looking the Washita river. The same miserly shanty his grandfather had built and raised all of his children in. He was proud of the fact that he was able to show up to church once a month for groceries, send his kids to town for food stamps, and still sell dope to the little rich jock straps for cash. After his wife died, he used the widower act to take advantage of any do gooder that crossed his path. Harris Branscum was a real cold fish and he scared the living hell out of Dick. If he hadn't, he would have tried harder.
As stated earlier, Harris had few boundaries in his life. One boundary he did have was territory; his territory. Dick had no defenses against the advancement of Harris's forces. He was divided, concurred, raped, and pillaged. Upon arriving at the Branscum home, Dick was given chores. The chores though mundane wee time consuming. Daily running of the trotlines took an hour. Cleaning the quarry took another half. Burning the trash was a quarter at most but milking the cows took two. Before Dick had lived in the Branscum Mansion, as he came to call it, Dick was forced to quit his job at the convenience store just to keep up with chores. Harris paid better than the store, but then took half of it back in rent. Jane applied for government assistance and within 60 days of arriving, Dick looked like a grafted in member of the Branscum family tree.
Of the other 6 siblings only one was still in the home with Jane and Dick. Timothy lived in the bedroom his the newly weds, and although he had the mental capacity of an eight year old his presence made marital relations for Dick a daunting task. "Don't worry about him." Jane would say, but Dick couldn't stop worrying. Timothy was 17 years old, and the story in town was that Harris himself had damaged the boy, but the family insisted that Tim was retarded from birth. In any case Dick was uncomfortable sharing his wedded bliss with a spectator and because of that, the second pregnancy was slow coming. When it did come, the carriage and delivery became family events. For all of their strangeness, and their was plenty of that, Dick was slowly realizing how close the family really was. There were times, sitting under the large cotton wood tree in front of their shack, that Dick liked living with the Munsters. It didn't ever take the "scares the living hell out of me" away, but he was starting to warm. Unfortunately coldness was the only temperature running through the veins of a Branscum, even a married one.
"Daddy's got money ya know." Jane whispered to Dick one night after they pretended Tim was asleep. She laid on her back sweating. The room was musky with sex. Dick was catching his breath. Timothy had left shortly after the show ended.
"Daddy's got money. A lot of it. He's got it hidden." Dick knew what she said was right, intellectually. Emotionally, it didn't matter. He wouldn't touch anything that belonged to the scary man if it was the last thing he ever did, not for a million bazillion gillion dollars.
"So, when he dies we get it."
"Oh. Well, so."
"Well he's bound to die sometime." Dick thought shrilly, 'And so am I, but I'm not touching him or it will be me first.' He held his tongue.
"Anyway," she continued, "Its hidden under the smoke house in great uncle Jims civil war chest. In the morning, you get the chest. I'll get the kids."
"Huh?" He said. Something in their conversation had just transpired. Dick wasn't sure what, but it sounded like 'You kill the scary man, I'll get the kids.' He said it louder than he wanted to. Dick lowered his voice; "I'm not doing anything to your father."
"You don't have to. I already did. He should be dead by now." Her voice was low, calm, and serious.
"What'd you do?" Dick sat up in bed. She followed suit. Still naked, she glistened in the moonlight.
"Shhhh." She said. He wondered why. If Harris were dead, who would care? Dick found himself in bed with a murderer and she was shushing him like the teacher might hear about the gum under her desk. "Nothing." As she said it, Dick heard a lamp fall to the floor in the next room. There were struggling noises and then two shots.
"Oh shoot." Jane said jumping up from bed. She ran naked into the next room. Dick leapt up as well, but stopped short of the other room when he heard her tell Timothy that he was not supposed to use a gun. He was only supposed to beat daddy to death, not shoot him. They would have to loose the body in the river now; it wouldn't be possible to burn him in the house. Dick sat back down. "Daddy's got money" he remembered her saying, "You get the chest, I'll get the kids."
To Dick's utter surprise, the investigation went without incident. Jane blamed Timothy in private to the police who, in turn, took him to the group home. The police fished the body out of the river. It and the gun were both wrapped up in a sheet. The sheet was tied to a steel drum. The gun had Timothy's prints all over it. Dick did as he was told. Dick took the money. Dick hid the money. Dick lied to the police. Dick held his peace while Jane ran the show.
With the money, Dick and Jane were able to settle down in town. They sold the home place, marijuana and all, and moved to Mulhall. It was the county seat of Quapah county about thirty miles from Davenport. For southeastern Oklahoma, it was a metropolis. Thirty five thousand bustling rednecks crammed pickups onto the city's four-lane thoroughfare and played city folk. Dick was one of those rednecks.
Dick entered the county police academy and tried to become everything he was not, while living under Harris's roof. He became responsible. He became a leader. He became strong. He became a cop. The gun at his side and the badge on his chest proved all of the above. Jane on the other hand, became Harris. She chipped away at him each day they were together. It was never in front of the kids. She would wait until they were safely out of earshot before she would sink her talons into Dick, but when she did, she never let go.
She despised his becoming a policeman. Besides the obvious risk factors for herself since he now carried a gun and pretended he could use it, he was a risk. Dick wasn't the brightest candle in the menorah, and a false move at a police department could mean the end of her. She tried desperately to make him quit. He would not. Somehow he was defining himself through it, like a master defines a dog. Which, while she was on the subject, was the second real problem. She was his master. She didn't need some weekend warrior, Sir Cops a lot telling Dick how to think. Jane could handle that job just fine, thank you very much.
But worst of all, beyond everything else in the world, Jane hated the thought of Dick being on the police force, because he liked it. More than liked it, he loved it. He loved all of it. She could remember lying in bed one night when he recounted driving the three wheeled traffic buggy up and down the downtown streets ticketing cars for meter violations. She could hear his laugh as he anecdotally laid out his day to her. All Jane heard was, "I spent the day in a three wheeled sissy car, ticketing poor schmucks like I was a real cop, and now I'm laughing about it like it matters." She would have killed him if she could have gotten away with it. It was not long after that conversation that she decided Dick would quit his job, or it would quit him.
To affect the change she began a barrage of attacks against his character and strength, the final of which was a pistol whip beating he endured in the middle of a mall, with his own gun, at the hands of his wife. Her plan worked. He was suspended from the force. Her plan had failed because she was sent to a mental hospital for observation. For all of his pain and suffering, Dick lay in a quilted cocoon watching the evening news, beside himself, happy that he didn't still have the craps.
Dick had drifted off to sleep when the news broke in on Leno to say that two of the three escaped mental patients had been recaptured. Dick's sleep broke. He sat up straight on the sofa pulling the quilt off of his head. Grabbing for the remote, he changed channels looking for another news flash. He had caught the tail end of the last and hoped he had dreamed it. He knew he hadn't. While water for the tea simmered on the stove earlier, Dick found something very troubling. He didn't know what, or why. It just had. Now, he knew. The smell of Jane's cheap fruity cologne mingled with sweat, was in the house. Jane was near. As the realization washed over him, and her foot falls started down the stare case, Dick smiled. Dick smiled large and toothy. His sliding lips parted and his eyes lit up. Tonight was the night. Tonight he became a man. Tonight he got his job, his life, and his respect back.