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of New Hampshire, having studied with poets Charles Simic and Mekeel
McBride. He has published in poetry
journals, anthologies, and magazines–most notably in Ellery Queen. Currently he has six published novels, two
short stories and is included in an anthology.
teaching ELA for 22 years he decided to put his master’s degree to work and is
now a high school counselor. In
addition, he is an avid marathoner, fly-fisherman, and outdoorsman. He lives just outside Houston, Texas with his
wife Valerie, two dogs and a cantankerous cat.
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A Whisper of Rage
The heavyset man had edged away from his Mustang, but now he quickly jumped back to it. He opened the passenger door and was reaching inside when the sedan jerked to a stop at the entrance of the parking lot.
And then I saw guns.
A fistful of panic punched my heart into my throat. I stopped in my tracks. The shooting came in a couple of quick bursts. Four, maybe five rounds, two of which sprang from the large man’s gun. One before he went down, the other as he cringed on the pavement. The last shot chased the car away as someone on the passenger’s side fell from the window. Tires screeching, the white sedan swerved from left to right, then burned past me.
I stood there like an idiot, not running for cover, not hitting the ground, wide open on the edge of the bayou. They could’ve taken a shot at me. I was a witness, or was it a spectator, a one-man audience? Exposed and vulnerable, I felt dazed like a deer caught in a poacher’s headlight. But now lights were off and a heavy silence filled the violent cracks of gunfire.
There was no traffic. No sirens. There were no planes growling by or police helicopters incessantly searching for criminals. The skyline was before me. Houston, Texas, a city in a coma. I shook my head. I shook it again, then began running, recklessly, half stumbling toward the man lying on the pavement beside the Mustang.
It felt like an uphill run into a stiff, hot wind. My legs were soft and numb, exhausted. As I drew close, I saw the man had a thick neck and almost no hair on his head. He wore a plain white T-shirt covered with yellow sweat stains and threadbare black shorts with pencil holes on the thighs. His sneakers weren’t Reeboks as I’d originally thought, but black high-tops, court shoes a basketball player would wear. I placed him in his fifties and, despite the big paunch, he had the look of a football coach or ex-Marine.
“Oh, Christ,” I prayed. My breathing was thick. His disgusting T-shirt over his big belly was soaked with blood and his eyes were closed. A huge gun was still clenched in his hand.
Last time I reached out toward a broken body, it was my best friend’s. And all I felt was cold. I touched this man’s meaty shoulder, not expecting a physical chill as much as a shiver from an empty shell losing its heat. “Oh, God, are you alive?”
His eyes popped open. The hand with the gun started to rise, then paused and fell to the ground. “I ain’t sure,” he drawled, his eyes widening then squinting as he focused in on me. “I ain’t sure at all.”
“I’ll go call an ambulance,” I said quickly.
“No!” he barked, his empty hand reaching up to me. “There ain’t no phone around here.”
“Don’t you have one in your car?”
“You’ve got to get me out of here.”
“What if they come back?”
“Get me out of here.”
“Doesn’t look like I have much of a choice.”
“You’re right, son,” he said, slightly nodding his head, “you don’t.” He grimaced and tried to sit. I grabbed him under his shoulder, pulled, and steadied him. With his empty hand he clutched his stomach, and soon blood was seeping through his fingers. So much for Willie Nelson, I thought as I took off my T-shirt, wadded it up, and slipped it under his hand and onto his wound.
‘‘Goddamn.” He winced, gulping air, and he tipped his head back and looked straight up at the milky sky. He sat with one knee bent, the other leg stretched out. I noticed scar tissue by his eyes. “Son,” he said, again trying to bring my face into focus, “you got to get me the hell out of here.”
He glanced at the gun in his hand. “I think I nailed him, too.”
‘‘Some consolation,” I muttered.
“Want me to take that from you?” I asked, nodding at the huge gun.
“No.” He paused. “I don’t know where my keys are.”
I reached over and pushed the car door closed. It hadn’t offered much protection, I thought as I noticed a deep, dark bullet hole. The keys weren’t in the lock.
“It’s all right,” I told him. “We’ll take my car.”
“You ready?” he demanded, as if I were the one holding us back.
“On three,” I said. And as we counted, a low, guttural grunt of pain escaped him as he forced himself to stand. It took every ounce of strength I had to help him. I was a good four or five inches taller than this man and fairly strong, but his iron bulk made him difficult to maneuver. It felt as if I had an anvil on my shoulder as I staggered the few yards toward my Bug.
“What’s your name, son?” he managed to ask.
“Neil Marshall. What’s yours?”
“C. J. McDaniels.”