Old Dogs And Children And An Evil, Evil Clown-A Short Story
"Are you leering at that girl's behind?" PFC. Herman Johnson asked. He sat behind the wheel of the 2013 Tahoe with the Greenville City PD graphics on the side and the Remington pump bolted on the floor between them.
"Negative, Corporal," his partner Cpl. Cindy Harper replied without turning her head away from the young woman bouncing across the asphalt. "Just maintaining proper vigilance and continued situational awareness."
It was late afternoon, early September and unusually cool for Carolina this time of year. The weather and caffine withdrawal had prompted the unauthorized visit to the Starbucks just out of their beat. Now after a quick trip back, they were sitting in the parking lot of a strip mall.
"But now that you bring it to my attention..." Harper said and blew on her coffee then took a sip."How was Bozo Patrol yesterday?"
There had been a rash of clown sightings in their beat and a couple of kids reported that one had tried to lure them into the woods. The City and the County law enforcement agencies were eating up their overtime budgets with officer stake outs in wooded areas near minority communities.
One man chased a clown into the woods a week ago with a machete. There were unconfirmed reports of shots fired at another one a couple of nights ago.
"Boring," Johnson shrugged. "Why don't you sign up?"
"Oh hell no," Harper said. "Those things creep me out, no way I'm doing that."
"You people are just easily spooked."
"You talking about the African American community, white boy, or the LGBT community?"
"Probably..." He looked sheepish, then raised his hands in mock surrender. "Probably both, but what do I know?"
"You see the memo on roll call?" Harper grinned and changed the subject.
"You know, I think I missed that piece of journalistic gold from the brass," Johnson said.
"BOLO," she read from the mobile data terminal between them. "Blah, blah, blah...The suspect is described as a clown or someone dressed as a clown..."
"A clown or someone dressed as a clown," he asked. "It does not say that!"
She turned the MDT toward him so he could read it.
"We better be careful," he said. "wouldn't want to confuse the two."
"Clown lives matter," she said.
They laughed, then rolled on a three-car with injuries a few blocks away and forgot about clowns, until later in the shift.
Sam Hilbreth applied the make up around his eyes in the mirror carefully. He had attended a clown college in Florida as a much younger man, although they didn't call it Clown College. The sinister look that he was after here certainly wasn't part of the curriculum there. His career as a circus clown was cut short by virtue of a first degree sexual conduct with a minor charge and a ten years stint with the Florida penal system in Miami.
That was all behind him now. He had managed to keep a crappy job at a local pallet factory for the last two years. Then three weeks ago a gig as a clown fell into his lap. Sam overheard a conversation at a local watering hole about a film company trying to get publicity for a soon to be released horror film. He hired on that very night.
He got fired after that first night when his record caught up to him. But now that old black magic had awakened in him and there was no way he could stop his after hours compulsions. Not that he wanted to. His rental house backed into a wooded area that gave him perfect access to the MLK apartment complex off of Concord Boulevard.
"They float, Georgie and when you're down here with me, you'll float too..." Hilbreth said to the clown in the mirror. It was his favorite line from Stephen King's IT and he had the Pennywise make-up and voice down cold. He loved scaring the little kids, almost as much as the things he fantasized about the slightly older ones.
He dressed in his floppy suit that buttoned up the front, then put his clown shoes and his Nikon camera into his back pack before easing out the rear door into the night.
Sam Hilbreth majored in scaring the shit out of kids, fondling them if he got the chance, but was not adverse to a little window peeping and digital memory retention. He was flexible like that.
"We all float down here, Georgie," Hilbreth said. He snickered as he locked the door and headed into the woods.
John McCoy sipped from a gallon jug of his preferred libation, that being the one that was on special at the local grocery store nearest to his home. Home was a one bedroom apartment at the MLK public housing complex designated for single occupancy and subsidized by federal tax dollars.
The old and heavy TV in the den his grand daughter had picked up for him at an estate sale had a fair picture but great sound which John was taking full advantage of. He was "old school" and preferred 60's Mowtown and "real" country music.
Right now CMT was airing a Tom T. Hall video from a time when leisure suits were the new thing:
"Uninvited, he sat down and opened up his mind," John sang along with Tom T. "About old dogs and children, and watermelon wine..."
Sam thought about his granddaughter and the one-year old daughter he had last seen in DaNang in the summer of 1970. He knew neither of these was the bump that had knocked him off the decades old wagon, but shrugged to the empty room, saluted Tom T. and slugged down some wine that was definitely not watermelon flavored. Not that it mattered.
He was normally squared away. The clothes Sam wore were always clean and pressed. The military green baseball cap showing his dates of service in the Vietnam war was worn proper-not ass backwards and his black leather boots were always polished and laced.
Even this afternoon, if not for the one day old growth of gray facial hair and the reddening eyes, a casual observer would have been hard pressed to know John was back on the juice. But John knew. He was not only powerless to stop the slide into oblivion, he was counting on it.
The VA doctor had been kind last week (as kind as they ever were), but John knew what he was facing.
He felt the weight of the five shot revolver in his pocket and shifted in his easy chair to get more comfortable.
If you don't know the song...
The clown, Sam Hilbreth, made his way carefully out of the woods and across the clearing to a section of four small apartments. Only one apartment had a light on, he eased up to the window and looked in.. An old black man seemed about drunk and sat watching TV with the volume way up.
The old man was listening to Mowtown and with remnants playing into the night, Sam boogied on.
The next set of apartments seemed preferable hunting grounds. Rap music floated out into the night. (And yes we all float, Georgie...) The corner apartment looked good. Hilbreth sat on the grass, fired up his Nikon, and zoomed in.
She may have been 18 or even 20. Hilbreth fantasized that she was 15 or maybe even 14. The windows were not covered and when she flashed by them his breath caught! He had to get up there for a closer look!
The clown quickly scanned the area, saw no one out, and made his way up to the back corner of the apartment. The window he wanted was down further past a door and a small concrete patio with a cheap set of aluminum chairs and a small mismatched white cast iron table. He crept by the door without realizing he was holding his breath as he stared at it afraid it would open. It didn't.
Then he bumped one of the chairs and it screeched on the concrete. It made a sound not unlike a chicken freshly caught and about to have its neck wrung for Sunday lunch.
Hilbreth froze, wanted to run, but couldn't. He slammed his eyes closed instead, then opened them slowly to realize that no one had heard. He finally let his breath out and thought about running away. For an instant. Then he remembered the flash of the girl and a grin spread over his clown face as he side stepped the other chair and headed along the wall to the window.
There, in the bright light of the bedroom, he saw her. He watched her dance her uninhibited dance. In the dark he raised the camera, brought the image into focus, and started shooting first stills and then video.
At the next apartment he peeped at three kids taking a bath and got some pictures of them. They were a little young for his taste, but he had found a market for photos like this on the Internet. He took about twenty shots, resisted the urge to scare them from his spot outside, and moved on.
John got the gun the night before.
It was a small, light black revolver with white grips. Cedric told him it was loaded with five rounds and John had no reason to doubt him. On the other hand, John was drunk and the two men were conducting business in the dark behind the Pair O Dice pool hall.
"Man, what you want with a gun anyway?" Cedric asked looking around as if SWAT might rappel off the roof any second.
"I got the money," John said. "Don't see where that's any of your business."
Cedric didn't disagree and took the money from John and put it in his pocket. John stuck the gun in his back pocket and the two went their separate ways with John staggering back toward his apartment and Cedric going into the back of the pool hall. Strong cigarette smoke laced with the smell of something stronger, muted light and thumping juke box music poured out the door as John passed it.
Now John sat listening to music, drinking up his nerve, and wondering if this might be his last night on this earth. He thought about writing a note to his granddaughter but couldn't figure out what he would say. He didn't know how to explain his decision and didn't believe she would understand.
"I know," he said and stumbled into his bedroom. On his dresser he picked up the one page report from his doctor, folded it, and put it in his shirt pocket. On the way back into the den he decided he might go through with his plan tonight. He moved the report to his rear pocket, surprised that he was thinking that clearly.
"I need a drink," he said and his voice sounded oddly calm.
He detoured to the kitchen, grabbed a pint of Jack Daniels that he had hidden from himself behind a box of Captain Crunch, and stepped out his back door. He didn't bother locking it behind him.
John sipped from the pint of liquid courage as he sat on his favorite stump down in the woods near an old dry creek bed. Last night on this very stump he had lost his nerve but...
"But hope springs eternal in the suicidal breast." John said aloud and his voice sounded strong, calm.
He stood and got the pistol out of his pocket then sat back down. He put the gun and the whiskey bottle side by side on the leaves and got the Swisher Sweet out of his shirt pocket. He fired it up with the same Zippo he had carried in Vietnam.
He smoked the small cigar, drank the whiskey quicker than he should have, and felt the world spin slower than he knew it should. He dropped the empty bottle and picked up the gun. He sighed and brought it up to his temple. He squeezed his eyes shut and began to slowly exert pressure with his index finger.
In the muted harvest moon and as the trigger moved a just a fraction, he was jolted by a powerful awareness that he was being watched. He opened his eyes, his vision swam but then cleared. At last his eyes adjusted and he saw a pair of eyes glowing at him from across the creek.
His vision blurred and when it sharpened again John saw it was a dog. It had moved slowly to the creek bed and stood looking up at him. Without thinking, John whistled and the dog ran toward him.
It ran slowly, it's age obvious, and stopped right in front of John. It was a Shepard mix, thin but not starving. John lay the gun back on the ground and patted the old dog's head. In return the dog lay his head in John's lap.
They sat that way, content and contained, until John's bad knees began to ache. He stood and picked up the revolver and put it back in his pocket.
"Not tonight, old fellah," John said.
As if his job here were done, the dog barked once, turned and headed off into the woods.
Sam Hilbreth had moved on to another set of apartments in the complex and had sneaked up to the corner to have a closer look.
He knew he was in trouble when he saw the old dog bare his teeth. Dogs were not allowed in government housing which was one reason Sam liked to prowl the apartment complexes. But here the Shepard mix was, baring his teeth with a low growl that was destined to lead to earth shattering barking. At least he had not yet put on his clown shoes and could beat a hasty retreat if things got worse...and he just knew things were about to get worse...
"Nice puppy," Sam crooned.
What the dog heard was a scared high-pitched and anger filled whine that further set his senses on edge. He growled and backed up a bit, keeping his eyes on the strange looking man with the odd pungent odor coming off him in waves.
Sam stared at the dog because he read somewhere, probably Facebook, that keeping eye contact was important when faced with a hostile dog. Slowly he knelt, eased his backpack off and reached past the shoes to the hammer he had in the bottom.
"Come and get it puppy, come here good boy," Sam said hoping to get the dog to step close enough to use the hammer.
The dog quietened, with his ears flattened against his head; and Sam, never a rocket scientist, thought his plan was working. He leaned out with his empty left hand and raised the hammer over his head with his right.
The dog exploded. He launched into the man, snarling, and biting. The old dog knocked him over and the clown shoes fell out of his pack. He felt his precious Nikon poke into him and he wondered if one of his ribs might be cracked. The dog had gotten quiet, but Sam was screaming.
Lights came on at the nearest apartment as Sam managed to kick the dog away and grab the hammer. The two faced each other under the harvest moon and Sam reared back and threw the hammer with all his strength. He knew he had missed the instant he let go. He watched, mesmerized, as the hammer flipped in the air and crashed through the glass door of the apartment.
"Shit," Sam said. The dog yelped, then ran around the corner of the apartment. Sam jumped up and sprinted for safety of the woods.
John McCoy was drunk. He knew he was getting drunker and supposed that was the price to be paid for drinking excellent whiskey like rain water. He had gotten turned around in the woods, lost his way, and stumbled much further west than he should have. He saw some lights in the distance through the woods and, using trees for balance, staggered in that direction.
John shook his head in disbelief when he saw the clown running like some kind of demon toward him. He was just inside the wood line and terror gripped him. He struggled to get his gun out. His first shot went off before he had even leveled the gun in the clowns direction. John closed one eye and tried to look down the tiny barrel with the other. He fired three more shots and the clown just kept coming. Then as John fired his last round, the clown's feet shot out from under him and he fell instantly in a heap.
John staggered just out of the woods, threw up, and then made it a few more steps before dropping to his knees and passing out. The gun lay next to him on the grass.
After the wreck, Harper and Johnson worked a domestic dispute where both parties had cussed them out. They took their supper break, then handled a burglary report, and the calls for service slowed down after that. It had been fully dark for hours when they cruised into the MLK housing project. Cpl. Cindy Harper was driving and she rolled the window down.
Johnson was explaining the difference in weight training for strength and weight training for show when Harper interrupted him.
"Did you hear that?" she asked.
"I'm talking," Johnson said. "Not listening."
They both heard the last shot and Harper accelerated the big SUV in the direction of the sound.
"Unit 283, Unit 283--Report of shots fired in the MLK Complex, 2800 Block."
"Headquarters 283 is 10-23 at the MLK Complex." Johnson clutched the mic.
"10-4, Unit 283. Be advised caller says shots came from woods in back. Two lefts and a right puts you on the spot."
"I know where I'm going," Harper said under her breath.
She took slowed for the first left, accelerated again, and then hung the second one. She braked for the right then powered back into the throttle to jump the curb and point her headlights out toward the woods.
Two figures lay about twenty feet apart at the edge of the woods. Neither moved and Harper slammed on the brakes and brought the car to a stop.
"Light 'em up!" She said and Johnson hit the lights. Still no movement.
"Watch 'em." Johnson said. Both officers jumped from the car and headed across the field with weapons out, but down.
Harper went left and Johnson went right with Johnson getting to his guy first. He rolled the man onto his stomach and cuffed him. The man burped and Johnson noted the heavy alcohol breath, rolled him onto his side, then took a quick look over at his partner.
"Johnson!" She yelled. "It's a clown!"
She backed up a step, her gun leveled at the form on the ground in front of her.
"It's a clown!" She screamed again.
Johnson had been in lots of hot situations with Cindy Harper before and had never seen her like this.
"On the way," he yelled. He shined his light around, spotted a weapon on the grass near the drunk, grabbed it and headed over to his partner.
The clown lay on his side, his tongue sticking out between his red painted lips and his eyes closed. With both flashlights trained on the unconscious man, it became obvious that he was not profusely bleeding. Both officers holstered their guns. Johnson noticed that Harper did not secure hers. He let that go.
"I'm going to roll him over onto his back," he said and knelt and did so.
"I'm not touching that thing," Harper said and backed up another step. She shined her light onto the clowns face, shuddered, then played it down.
"What wrong with its neck?" she asked.
Johnson looked at the man's neck. It was raw from below his Adam's apple all the way up to the chin. There was some minor bleeding in the folds of fatty skin. Johnson looked up and then laughed.
"Clotheslined," he said. "Look!"
Above them a clothesline had been stretched between two tall pines. The clown had hit the line at a run and they were looking at the result. They also noted the Nikon.
"You cuff it," Harper said. "I'll call EMS and get the other guy loaded up."
"He's passed out drunk," Johnson said. "Good luck with that."
Three hours later the two officers sat at a table in the squad room. Johnson was working on the shots fired report while Cindy did a supplemental report detailing their involvement in the search warrant served on Sam Hilbreth's house.
"When I get home," Cindy said. "I'm going to wash my hands in bleach."
"Know what you mean, Corporal." Johnson looked up from the display. "But we collected enough child porn evidence to keep that clown in prison for a long, long time."
"It was worth it," Cindy smiled, "but God that man was nasty."
It was 6:30 in the morning when John McCoy woke up with thunder crashing in his head and a dump truck load of sand coating his mouth. He stumbled over to the stainless steel sink in his cell and splashed cold water on his face. He cupped his shaking hands under the faucet, caught some water and rinsed his mouth out twice before swallowing some.
He was alone in a private cell and he wondered why. Then he remembered shooting the clown.
He heard footsteps coming down the hall and wiped his face with his shirt tail. He tucked his shirt in and then stood erect figuring he could face whatever was coming.
He was wrong.
She stood in front of him and stared at him through the bars. A single tear ran down her cheek, and she held up the doctor's report that had been folded in his pocket the night before and taken and logged as property.
"No," Corporal Cindy Harper said through clenched teeth. "My grandfather is not going to die alone in the woods like some animal. That is not going to happen."
"Cindy, I'm so sorry." McCoy spoke to the floor unable to bring his eyes to hers.
"Don't say that again, Gramps." Cindy got a key from the pocket of her uniform and slid it into the lock. "You're going home to live with me."
John McCoy felt the tears well up, but took deep breath and raised his face and watched as Cindy pulled the cell door open.
"I'll take care of you from now on, just like you took care of me when I was little,"she said as she stepped into the cell. “I haven't forgotten,” she wiped the tear off her face.
"But I killed a man," McCoy said standing firm in place. "You can't fix that."
Cindy put her arms around the old man and pulled him close.
"It was a blank gun, you old fool. A starter's pistol." Cindy whispered. "You didn't shoot anyone."
Forgot to add the comments section when I wrote the story. Sorry about that and thanks to Bill for pointing it out. I love to get comments on my stuff!