Chapter 1: "The Death"



July 1993

"Stupid bitch!" Jimmy Oglethorpe screamed as he produced a switchblade from his pants pocket, opened it and lunged dangerously at Becky Daily's midsection missing her by a mere fraction of an inch.

Meanwhile, as Becky was attempting to reason with Jimmy, his two brothers, Sammy and Bert, had moved to blocking positions on each side of her boyfriend, Ethan Barns. He was surrounded on all sides. To his front was his candy-apple red 1968 Mustang, to the rear Jimmy's pickup truck and on his sides were Jimmy's two brothers.

When Ethan attempted to jump over the rear of the car so he could get to Jimmy, the two grabbed him by the arms and held him forcefully at bay and, it seemed to Ethan an almost horribly surreal moment compared to the calm tranquility of a few minutes ago when he had arrived there.

Ethan Barns loved his high school sweetheart, Becky Daily, and would have married her after graduation had they both not had the good sense to know that neither of them was ready for that kind of commitment. Both of them knew how hard it was to raise a family on the limited incomes provided by the few jobs available in the small rural farming community so they decided to wait a few years and build a nest egg before starting a family together.

When one lives in a small town like Magnolia Georgia, job prospects are limited and they really had very few choices, either work at the local chicken processing plant or join the military.

Since the only time Ethan liked dead chickens was when they were on his plate covered in barbeque sauce, he chose the military.

It almost broke Becky's heart when Ethan told her that he had joined the Army after high school hoping to save up enough for a future for the two of them. She cried in his arms as she said to him, "I just know you're going to meet someone and never want to come back! You're going be just like everyone else and forget about this shit hole town and me."

But he took her in his arms and assured her that he would return to take her away with him. When he did leave her, she honestly thought she would never see him again. She felt hopeless that day. She couldn't even join the Army herself, a childhood injury to one ear had left her with a hearing loss and made sure that would never happen. So there she was, stuck in that awful little town, facing whatever nowhere low-paying job she could find to survive on.

Of course, the first thing the Army did was ship him out and, as fate would have it, for most of the seven years since his enlistment, other than on the occasional leave, he was stationed too far away from Becky to see her.

After Basic Training, he had taken his A.I.T., Advanced Individual Training or job training in the civilian world, at Aberdeen Proving Grounds Maryland for eighteen months and then was stationed at Fort Ord, California for six months. That was followed by three years in at Fort Benning Georgia, then three years in Germany, and then a year in Korea. Until finally, after spending the last year in Korea, Ethan had been shipped stateside to Fort Benning where he was to spend the last six months of his eight-year military career.

Ethan loved her so much and had spent too much time away from her.

His enlistment was almost up and so, the first thing he did when he hit stateside was to take his leave. Ethan drove back to Magnolia so he could ask Becky to marry him.

During the trip he ran over and over in his mind how he would propose to her only to forget everything. Instead, he simply asked her as soon as she opened the door.

She accepted without reservation and the two of them decided to go out for the night and celebrate.

After Becky went inside and retrieved her purse, the couple began walking to the street where Ethan's car was parked. Just as they were about to get into it, Jimmy and his two brothers, Sammy and Bert, the town's resident bullies, pulled up in an old beat-up black pickup.

They were such troublemakers that some of the local town's folk had not so affectionately started calling them the "Red Tornados", partly because of the red hair they all had but mostly because everywhere they seemed to go violence and disaster followed them.

Jimmy jumped out of the back of the pickup truck, staggered a bit, recovered his balance and then held the beer can he was holding upside down above him as he gulped down its contents. When the can was empty, he summarily threw the beer can directly at Ethan in a sign of utter contempt. All the while yelling at Becky, the enraged redhead started walking around the car until he stood in front of her.

From the way he was acting, it was plain to see that the man was drunk which made him all the more dangerous.

Ethan and Becky both knew this and Ethan could see the fear on her face. There had long been a rumor running around town about how Jimmy treated women. As the rumor went, Jimmy had gotten drunk one night after he picked up one of the local girls. Supposedly he had beaten and raped the girl. While he denied the rumor vehemently and would beat senselessly anyone he heard repeating it, it didn't help his case when she showed up three days later at school with several bruises all over her face and arms. Nor did it help when she showed up pregnant three months later and then suddenly disappeared.

Another version of the sordid story added that the girl had been given an undisclosed some of money by Doc Harris and then "escorted" out of town by the local sheriff.

"I told you not to see him any more. You're my girl now!" Jimmy yelled at Becky in a slurred voice that usually comes after several hours of consuming too much alcohol.

Calmly she replied, "You're drunk Jimmy. Go home and sleep it off. Maybe when you wake up in the morning you'll remember that we only went out once."

She hadn't known about his reputation back then so Becky had dated him. Now she regretted it though, for every time he drank, Jimmy would come track her down and harass her as he attempted to assert his ownership over her.

But this time he was in rare form, Becky guessed he must have been set off when he heard that Ethan was back in town.

Unfortunately, Jimmy's blood alcohol level was far too high for his brain to be functioning much higher than that of a rabid dog and he was enraged beyond belief. The inebriated man reached wildly for her blouse. It was obvious that he intended to tear it off, her leaving her exposed for all to see. "What are you doing with him? Didn't I tell you that you're mine?"

All the while, Ethan was protesting loudly as he struggled to free himself so he could help Becky.

"Jimmy, I've told you before that this cave man attitude of yours doesn't work with me. I can see anyone I want. Now go on home! I'm not going to argue with you any more." She told him flatly and started to get into the car.

Jimmy grabbed her and when he missed her blouse, the drunken man reached for her arm as he yelled once more. "Since you want to act like a slut, why don't you show us all what a whore you really are and do me right here?"

Becky slapped Jimmy hard on the left side of his face and pulled her arm away from him.

From the force Becky's hand had impacted his face, there could be no doubt that he would have a large red welt the next morning.

That's when Jimmy yelled at her "Stupid bitch! No body hits me! Nobody!" and took out the switchblade from his pants pocket and pressed the stud that exposed the knife's deadly blade. He was well beyond reasoning now and just seemed to be ignoring her as he thrust the knife in her direction. Luckily, the drunken man missed her midsection by a mere fraction of an inch, mostly because she jumped back just at the last second before impact.

Ethan knew that Jimmy was going to try again; he had seen a few of his Army buddies get this drunk before and also knew that when they were in that condition, there was no reasoning with them. He feared for Becky's life but with Sammy and Bert holding him Ethan couldn't get to her. Ethan also knew that if he didn't do something fast Jimmy was going to kill her.

Seeing what looked like a .38 revolver protruding from the right side pocket of Sammy's blue-jean jacket, Ethan tried in vain to free his left arm free from Sammy's grasp.

Cursing the two men, Ethan began struggling violently with the two brothers but they held him tightly. In desperation, he stomped down hard with the heal of his left boot onto the instep of Sammy's right foot causing the man to wince in pain and momentarily loosen his grip. It was all Ethan needed and he suddenly broke his left arm free long enough to grab the pistol.

Before either of the two men holding him could react, Ethan snapped off a single shot just as Jimmy lunged as he made another attempt to cut Becky with the knife for the second time.

Jimmy grimaced for a second and then dropped the knife, which slid in the direction of Ethan's car and disappeared. Blood began pulsing from a dark spot in the center of his chest all over the Budweiser tee-shirt he was wearing. Jimmy fell to his knees and continued his downward decent face first to the ground and lay there motionless.

He lay there with his life's blood pouring onto the ground, creeping ever so slowly around him until it found its way up to his face and hair.

The two brothers ran to aid their fallen sibling but it was too late, Jimmy was already beyond help. Later, the coroner's examination would reveal that the mortal wound had entered the man's chest on the right side, penetrated his right lung, continued through his heart and then entered his left lung killing him almost instantly.

While Ethan had been trained by the Army how to kill, they had never showed him what it would actually look like. The reality is that all the training in the world doesn't prepare anyone how to live with it afterwards. He just stood there stunned, unable to move as a sickening feeling grew in the pit of his stomach.

Someone inside one of the nearby dwellings must have heard the gunshot because, just then people began coming outside into the street to see what had happened. There was the loud sound of a shotgun being fired followed by a hissing sound as the front left tire of Ethan's car suddenly went flat. That was followed by the noise created by several doors being slammed shut as people hastily sought the safety of there abodes.

"Drop it Ethan!" came a loud commanding voice from somewhere behind him. Ethan recognized the voice as that of, Johnny Wilkins, the county's deputy sheriff and cousin of the three brothers.

The lawman had been on patrol in the neighborhood at the time, heard the shot a few blocks away and pulled his squad car up at the end of the block unnoticed in all the commotion.

Ethan looked over in the direction the voice had come from to see Johnny standing there holding a double-barreled shotgun now pointed directly at his midsection.

Johnny Wilkins was about twenty-two years old and it was common knowledge that he had gotten the job when he helped the Sheriff break up a bar fight that had broken out between some of the local boys and a small gang of bikers.

Since there was an opening at the time for a deputy, it probably didn't hurt any that the sheriff just happened to be his uncle on his mother's side either.

Despite the deputy's youth, if the sheriff ever sent Johnny calling, nobody with any sense gave him trouble. Unless that is, they wanted a broken jaw to remind them while they were in the local jail of how stupid they had been.

When Ethan saw the lawman's finger was on the trigger of the shotgun, he knew from the deadly serious look on the man's face the deputy wouldn't hesitate to pull it. Without saying a word, Ethan dropped the weapon to the ground and slowly raised his hands, palms outward, so that Johnny could see that both hands were empty.

Probably given courage by the presence of the lawman, a few brave souls had decided to step outside once more and see what was going on.

"Has anyone called 911 yet?" Johnny yelled in the direction of the crowd forming behind him.

An unidentified voice called back, "Tim has, they said they'll be here three minutes."

"How's he doing Sammy?" The deputy asked his cousin.

Sammy, who was kneeling over his dead brother's body, looked up and cried out, "He's dead Johnny! That son-of-a-bitch killed him!"

"Call Mattie!" Ordered the deputy. Everybody in the county knew that Mattie was the Sheriff's wife. Then added, "Tell her to wake Uncle Jack and tell him to get his ass over here right now and then tell Doc Harris to get over to his office."

Just then, Sammy stood up and started walking in the direction of the pistol. There was a murderous look in his eyes and his face was crimson with rage.

Ethan suddenly got very nervous. Even though he and Johnny had been friends most of their lives, the deputy, dead man, and the dead man's brothers were all cousins so he didn't know how things were going to play out. He didn't have to wait long to find out.

"Sammy, cousin or not, if you pick up that gun I'll shoot you down where you stand!" Came the voice of the deputy. That was followed by the clicking sound of one of the hammers on the shotgun being pulled back.

Bert began rising to his feet, as he did, he said to his cousin. "You've only got one barrel left Johnny and there's two of us! You can't get us both!"

"You're right about that. And with you being related, I might even miss you. But I'll bet that Ethan will make it to that gun on the ground there before you can get to me. And since we already know he can shoot straight, I'm betting you two won't live to see tomorrow. You sure you want to take that chance?" Replied the lawman.

Shocked expressions on their faces, his two cousins looked at him for several seconds. Then Sammy said to him, "You wouldn't let that killer have a gun after he just shot down Jimmy, would you?"

"Well now, to tell you the truth. I trust Ethan a whole lot more than I do you boys! So yeah, I reckon I would!" Answered the deputy dispassionately.

They both knew their cousin didn't like them and they also knew he meant what he said. The two cousins decided to back off rather than face two armed men.

They were aware that the deputy was the only one that knew the full story about what happened the night Jimmy raped that young girl and he also knew that Jimmy wasn't the only one involved in it! No, there was no love lost between the three men at all.

Squealing wheels as it came to a halt, the sheriff's car pulled up. All four wheels had barely come to a compete halt when the driver's side door swung suddenly open and a man about six feet three inches tall got out of the car.

In less than one second he surveyed the situation, drew his pistol and aimed it in the direction his deputy's shotgun was pointing.

The sheriff was a big man, weighing about 345 pounds with large shoulders and a massive chest. He had just a touch of a potbelly but you could plainly see he was every bit muscle everywhere else. His wasn't by any means a handsome man, with his pitted face and large bushy eyebrows. In fact, he was down right odd looking, mostly due to the fact that in wore one of those old handle bar mustaches you usually only see in old westerns. From the look of his clothes, you could tell he had dressed hastily for he was wearing the blue jeans, a white tee-shirt, with his badge pined to hit, no socks and of all things brown Scooby-Doo slippers! On his head was a tan Stetson rancher style cowboy hat and, of course, his gun belt. But, as funny as he looked, nobody was laughing.

In an extremely deep voice, the man called out. "Everyone that did not see the what happened go home and stay there." Then he turned and said to his deputy, "You call the Doc yet Johnny?"

"On his way!" Answered Johnny replied.

The big man began walking over slowly as people started drifting back into their homes. "What happened here?"

"Don't know sheriff. I haven't had a chance to ask yet. I've been busy trying to keep these two dumb-asses from getting themselves shot." The younger lawman said to his elder as he motioned towards the two surviving brothers with the barrel of his shotgun.

Just then, Sammy spoke up, "He killed him Uncle Jack!" Shot him down like a dog. He didn't have no cause!"

"You're damned liar Sammy Oglethorpe! You know full well Jimmy was trying to kill me when Ethan shot him!" Yelled Becky.

The sheriff looked over at Bert and said, "Is that true?"

Bert looked glanced at his brother for a second, hesitated another second, then replied, "Nope Uncle Jack! She's lying. Jimmy didn't have no knife. He was just telling her how pretty she looked when she got all 'bitchie' and slapped him. Then Ethan took out a gun and shot Jimmy dead! Jimmy didn't even lay so much as a hand on her."

"Their both lying sheriff! Jimmy was drunk and tried to rip my blouse. That's when I slapped him in the face. Then he pulled out a knife and tried to stab me but missed. Ethan shot Jimmy when he tried to do it again!" Becky retorted.

The sheriff turned to his deputy and said, "We'll just have to sort this out at the station. Cuff him and put him in the back seat of my car," he motioned towards Ethan, "and then put her in the front seat." Then he turned to the two brothers and said, "You two boys can wait here while I go see if anybody else saw anything."

When the crowd dissipated, Ethan said to his friend, "Listen Johnny, I'm not lying. Jimmy attacked her with a knife. He dropped it when I shot him and it went under the car. Just look for it!"

If there had been any other witnesses, they didn't want to get involved for when the sheriff turned around everyone else had gone home.

"Hold on Uncle Jack, it'll just take a second for me to look under the car." The deputy said to his boss. Then he walked over and handed his shotgun to the sheriff and went back to his squad car. He retrieved a flashlight from the front seat. The young lawman then walked back to the side of the Ethan's car and knelt down. He looked under the car for several seconds, moving his flashlight from side to side as he looked intently for the fallen knife.

He stood up and said sternly, "There's no knife under here Ethan!"

As Ethan stood there in shock, the deputy walked over to him and said, "Ethan Barns, you're under arrest for the murder of Jimmy Oglethorpe."

Two minutes later, Ethan found himself handcuffed and sitting in the back of the Sheriff's patrol car. Becky was sitting in the front seat. There was the distinct odor of vomit and cheap wine mixed with a very heavy amount of some type of disinfectant he couldn't identify in the air inside the car.

With nothing else to do, the couple watched out the windows and waited for the sheriff to return. It was just about that time an ambulance showed up to be followed by a old gray ford sedan left over from the 1950's. The sedan was being driven by the town's doctor and coroner, 'Doc Harris'. The doctor was tiny, skinny old man with round glass. He must have be at least seventy-two years old and Ethan thought to himself that the man looked to him like a taller, skinner version of the actor Henry Fonda.

Most men would have retired at his age, but no, he just kept working. After all, how else could he keep control over the town and his investments? There was one other distinction he had; he was the grandfather of the deceased! As he sat there, Ethan realized that events had just spiraled out of control and an impending feeling of dread came suddenly over him.

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