Excerpt for Zeke by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


A Novel

ca. 67,500 words


Coy D. Roper

Cover Illustration by

Katie Boren

Abilene, Texas

July 2017

This novel is a work of fiction.


Preface: Clear Creek and Its Police Station . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .. .. . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Chapter One: The Badge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Chapter Two: The Boy Who Thought He Could Fly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

Chapter Three: The Preacher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

Chapter Four: The Election . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

Chapter Five: The Hunting Accident . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

Chapter Six: The Kid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97

Chapter Seven: The Demonstration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

Chapter Eight: The Haskell Kinder Case . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131

Chapter Nine: The Trinity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143

Chapter Ten: The Gubernatorial Candidate, and the School Teacher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163



Clear Creek (1960 population 7,432) got its name when the white people who moved into Indian territory in northeastern Oklahoma in the 1890’s couldn’t pronounce the Indian word for the village where they settled, so they named the town after the creek that ran through it. It was, in fact, a clear stream that began somewhere west of town, flowed through the city, and then meandered through the Ozark foothills till it flowed into the Illinois river about ten miles east of town.

Located about seventy miles southeast of Tulsa, thirty miles north of Madison, and about forty-five miles from the Arkansas state line, Clear Creek was situated in the foothills of the Ozark mountains. Go north and east from Clear Creek and you’d soon be in the Ozarks; go south and west and you’d find yourself in the rolling plains and blackjack groves that dominate central Oklahoma.

The town was built around the courthouse square. The courthouse itself dated from Indian territory days. Since Clear Creek was the county seat—there were several other smaller towns in the county—the courthouse was owned by the county and contained the county offices—the sheriff’s office, the county commissioners’ office, the county assessor’s office, etc.—but the county rented out some of the courthouse space to the city. For instance, the city council met there. And its courtroom and judge’s chambers served both the county and the city.

Around the courthouse square were some of the more well-known stores in town, including the Harris Department Store, Sam’s Bar (in the mid-1960’s Oklahoma had been “wet” less than ten years, but it didn’t take long for enterprising entrepreneurs to find ways to slake Oklahoma’s drinkers’ collective thirst), the Downtown Café, the Rexall Drug Store, Harold Warpole’s Barber Shop, a hardware store, the Paramount Theatre, and beside it an ice cream store named “Yummy.”

Highway 47 came up from Madison, ran through the town—and around the square--, and continued on northwest to Tulsa. It had also become Clear Creek’s main street, with shops and restaurants of all shapes and sizes beckoning customers for a quarter mile on either side of the square. And there were some business enterprises on side streets running into main street, such as Myrtle’s Souvenir and Gift Shop and Hardin’s Package Store.

Another highway, 311, coming from the west, crossed Highway 47 just south of town and continued on east to Arkansas. It basically skirted the city on the south and east sides before turning to face the Ozarks head-on. Several businesses were located on or near 311 as it passed through, or ran beside, the city—Joiner’s Lumber Yard, for instance, and Alma’s All Night Café and Truck Stop. The Moonshine Club did business on the south side of Highway 311 just east of Clear Creek.

Clear Creek ran through town just north of the main shopping area, and pretty much served as the boundary between the town and the campus of Sequoyah State College (student enrollment: about 2,500). Where Main Street crossed the creek, on the south side of the creek, was Rose Park—a small but pretty park featuring lots of green grass, planted shrubs and flowers, picnic tables, and a slide and swings. North of the creek, Chandler Drive ran parallel to the creek and featured shops and stores (like the “Sweet Shoppe” and Bulldog Inn) catering to the college crowd. On the other side of the street the campus began, with its classroom buildings, student center, administration building, dormitories, gymnasium, auditorium, football field, etc.

North of the campus the Old Mill Road ran east from Highway 47 into the woods where there had once been a lumber production operation.

On the west side of town were the older, more modest homes; and in the northwest were the city’s junior high and high school buildings and sports fields. On the northeast, near the college, were the older, larger homes of Clear Creek’s more affluent citizens. East of 311 were a couple of trailer parks and some run-down shacks which anywhere else might have been called “slums.” Just south of the intersection of Highways 47 and 311 was Clear Creek’s new elementary school. Farther south, along Highway 47, barely within the city limits, was the “Dancing Eyes Housing Development”—a cluster of recently built expensive new homes. Many of Sequoyah’s professors and administrators chose to live in that rather exclusive suburb.

The county jail was located on the courthouse square, and the fire department was a block south of the square on Main Street. And half a block south of it was the Clear Creek Police Station.

The Police Station was a fairly new (built about 1950) one-story brick building, with parking spaces and a small lawn in front, and a parking lot beside it on the north. In front there was a small porch with a sign over it proclaiming that this was the home of the “Clear Creek Police Department.”

Inside, the station was divided into two parts. In the back was the city jail: four cells and a storage room, separated from the rest of the building by a wall, with a locked door in its center.

The station itself was basically one large room. Come in the front door and on your right you’d see the receptionist’s desk, with filing cabinets against the wall; and in the far right corner at the front of the room was the dispatcher’s corner. On the left was the Police Chief’s “office”—an area marked off with a thirty-inch high railing, containing the chief’s desk, a filing cabinet, and a couple of chairs.

The remainder of the space was called the “Common Room.” In it were a couple of tables, several chairs, a coffee maker, one recliner, and lockers—one for each employee. In the back on the left was a side door that opened out to the parking lot, and behind it was the evidence room, and restrooms for both sexes. Zeke spent a good part of his life in that police station.



January, 1965

At the Clear Creek police station, late one Thursday night in January, 1965, the buzzer sounded sharply, signaling an incoming call. Jerry Hays, sitting in the dispatcher’s corner, put down his college algebra book, and spoke sleepily into the headset: "Clear Creek Police Department. May I help you?"

In what was known as the “Common Room,” twenty feet away, the domino game halted momentarily with the incoming call, then continued. Zeke Martin, the big raw-boned thirty-eight-year-old policeman in the western shirt and cowboy boots, finished shuffling and pushed the dominoes toward the player on his left, saying, "Your down, Elmo."

Elmo Sneed was the other policeman on duty--a five-foot-six fifty-year old dressed in a neat police uniform who always carried a small notebook in his shirt pocket which he used to keep a carefully printed record of everything that happened. Elmo puffed out chubby red cheeks and played the double-five: "I'll take ten."

"Me, too," countered Freddy Fenimore, the snake-skinny fireman sitting across from Zeke (the fire station was just half a block away), playing the blank-five.

Then, on Zeke’s right, "Squeaky" (also known as Harold Metcalf), said, “Likewise,” in a high-pitched voice, and played the double-blank, moving his 450 pound body closer to the table as he did so, while the chair he was sitting in groaned under his weight.

Squeaky, an ex-con who had served time in the state pen, had a drinking problem: He worked faithfully for old man Harris as a bookkeeper, but when he got paid every other Thursday, he took his check to Sam’s Bar downtown, cashed it, and drank himself drunk. Being drunk made him hot, so as he walked home he would begin to take off his clothes. Usually someone would call the police, and he would end up spending the night in jail, charged with public drunkenness. Tonight was one of those nights.

The Call

Jerry had been talking quietly. Now he turned and fixed serious eyes on the group: "It's Mrs. Belcher. She wants to know if there're any policemen available." Zeke played the five-six on the spinner before replying. "What's she want now?" Zeke and Elmo were the two policemen on duty at the time. Elmo had seniority, but he let Zeke take charge. For him, life was easier that way.

Jerry replied, "Bunch of students in that big house next to hers on the Old Mill Road having some kind of wild party." Clear Creek was home to Sequoyah State College, and its students often were accused of having “wild parties.”

Zeke grunted: "Tell her we're all out on patrol and we'll get around there as soon as we can."

As Jerry turned back to relay the message, Freddy chortled, "Yeah, patrolling the domino game at the station."

Elmo laughed. "Shucks, we're hard at work, guarding this dangerous criminal." He pointed at Squeaky, and the big man ducked his head and tried to focus on the dominoes.

"Play or get off the pot," Zeke said to Elmo. "Forget old lady Belcher. She gets excited any time any college student acts like he's having fun--expects us to come running every time she calls in the middle of the night."

Jerry looked back up from his book, earnest brown eyes framed by horn-rimmed glasses. "She thinks they been taking dope--pep pills, that kind of stuff."

Zeke started momentarily, then growled, "Ah, tell her to go clabber her milk. Play, Squeaky."

But as the game settled down to the quiet clacking of the dominoes and the mumbled comments of the players, Zeke's mind slipped into reverse and replayed for him this afternoon’s scene with his wife Flo.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Zeke (full name: Ezekiel Bernard Martin) had been born in the hospital in Madison, thirty miles from Clear Creek, on January 15, 1927. He and Flo had been married since December 20, 1944, when, as high school juniors, they dropped out of school to get married. Zeke turned eighteen the following January, was drafted into the Army in March, and their son Brian was born in June, 1945, “prematurely” they claimed.

Their marriage had survived, but sometimes just barely. Zeke completed his basic training and was preparing to ship out for the invasion of Japan when the war ended. Instead of Japan, he found himself on an army base in California, where he spent the last two years of his time in the service.

Flo and baby Brian joined him for the last year of that time. After he was discharged they stayed in California for several years, then moved to Texas—first to Houston, then to Midland.

Zeke worked at a variety of menial jobs, never being able to get a good job, or to hold any job for long, for several reasons: One, he was a high school dropout, unqualified for most desirable positions. Two, he was short-tempered and often lashed out at customers, bosses, and fellow-workers. In fact, he had spent three weeks in the guardhouse while he was in the army for bashing a sergeant whose attitude he didn’t like. Three, he was an alcoholic. He grew up drinking—his father, Silas Martin, operated a still on the 80-acre family farm—and he learned to drink even more heavily while he was in the army. By the time he was discharged he was a full-blown alcoholic. His character flaws and alcoholism combined to dictate that he would fail at every job he tried.

Flo’s story was somewhat different. She was born Florence Gayle McFarland, the only child of Harvey and Thelma McFarland, and grew up in Duncan in southwestern Oklahoma. When she was in the tenth grade she moved with her parents to Clear Creek where her dad had accepted a job as a linotype operator at Clear Creek Printing and Office Supply. Her parents lived there for three years, until her father was fired because of problems related to his alcoholism, then they moved to Kansas City to live near Thelma’s sister Maddie.

Flo met and fell in love with the big guy Zeke. After their marriage, she could understand Zeke’s alcohol problem though she never drank herself, but she didn’t know what to do about it. She spent her time raising her son, looking through catalogs at things she couldn’t afford to buy, and daydreaming about the life she could have had if she had done things differently.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Zeke remembered: That afternoon, as he was getting ready to go to work (he and Elmo were working the four to midnight shift), Flo had stood there, dressed in a frumpy housecoat with her hair in curlers, watching him as he buckled on the Colt 45 he wore on duty.

"Well, what're you going to do about it?" she asked.

"About what?"

"About Brian! That's what."

"What's he done now?”

"He hasn't done anything. That's just the trouble. All he does is go out every night and party."

"So what's the matter with that?" It seemed to Zeke that he and Flo had been fighting continually since their marriage, twenty long years before. Lately it had been mostly about Brian.

"What's the matter with that?" she mocked him. "Just that he's going to flunk out of college and end up being just like his dad--a punk policeman in a one-horse town at a lousy salary!"

His jaw set in a determined line as he jerked his gun belt a notch tighter than usual, but he said calmly enough. "Aw, stop your”—he started to swear, but remembered that one condition for keeping his job was that he had to clean up his speech, so instead he said—“confounded whining. I'll take care of Brian." Dropping his badge into his shirt pocket, he started to leave.

But Flo wasn't through. She flung herself in front of him and blocked the door, oblivious to a strand of straggly hair which had collapsed over her face. Shrilly she cried, "Yeah, you'll take care of him. won't you? Just like you always have?"

Maybe that was the trouble. Zeke thought--the kind of care he'd taken of his boy. When he and Flo were dating in high school, Flo had looked forward to soft lights and roses, but Brian had come while Zeke was in basic training and there had been a runny nose and dirty diapers instead—and, Zeke had to admit, an alcoholic husband who had trouble making a living. He supposed maybe her disappointment with marriage had produced her unhappiness and sloppiness. And maybe his disappointment with her had caused him to give Brian too much attention.

He remembered that when he first saw Flo at Clear Creek High School he thought she was about the prettiest, sweetest thing he had ever seen—tall, slim but not skinny, with long brown hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a sweet but sassy disposition—besides which, she was one of the smarter kids in their class. But it seemed to him that marriage and childbirth—and, probably, an alcoholic husband—had soured her nature and produced a lack of concern about her looks. He was pretty sure that, whatever her faults, he had contributed to them.

Anyway, as he went from job to job, from one meagre salary to another, he always managed to provide his son with everything he wanted. In fact, just this past fall, to celebrate Brian’s completion of his first year of college, Zeke had gone into debt to buy him a new black Mustang—the payments on which he and Flo were struggling to make on time.

So Brian was spoiled, so what, thought Zeke. So were lots of kids. But worry gnawed at the edges of his mind: Brian had been in trouble before. Of course, they were just minor scrapes, little things, that Zeke had bought his way out of.

Still, the worry made him rough. He had pushed his way around Flo and opened the door. But she had grabbed his arm and screamed, "He's been taking dope! Pills! See!" She took a small pill bottle from her pocket and stuck it in his face. He shoved her arm aside and hurried out to the car, her last words ringing in his ears: "I found them in Brian's coat! He's an addict!"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Zeke’s reverie and the domino game were interrupted by the banging of the front door as a short thin thirtyish man wearing glasses, an intense look, and rumpled hair burst into the room, a camera in a sling over his shoulder.

Freddy looked up from shuffling long enough to call out derisively: "Well, well, here's old Joe Barnhill, the fearless editor of the Clear Creek Tattler. Isn't that the paper's name, Joe?"

The newcomer grimaced and said with humor, "Yeah, that, or the Times--I forget which."

Elmo smiled. "What scandal you cooking up tonight, Joe?"

"Nothing much, I reckon;" he replied, "just wanted to see that our stalwart police force is on the job. Such a comfort to see them braving the dangers of the asphalt jungle to keep our city safe."

"All right, Mr. Smart Aleck," answered Elmo, "what'd you want us to do? Go murder someone so we'll have some business?"

"I hear you already got some business. Mrs. Belcher called me about some kids who're tearing the neighborhood apart."

"Aw, don't get your bowels in an uproar," Zeke mumbled as he played. "She ought to let the kids have a little fun."

Joe exploded: "Sure, let them have a little fun!" He swooped down on the table and scattered the dominoes with one sweep of his hand. "Let them booze, and take dope, and tear down houses, and steal us blind--and while they do it, you big policemen sit here and play dominoes! What they got to do--kill someone?--before you do anything about it?"

Zeke rose menacingly above him, grabbed him by the collar, and snapped, "Why you little . . .”—he came close to swearing, but checked himself—“I ought to bust your gut!" At that moment, the buzzer signaled an incoming call. As the others stood transfixed, Jerry answered.

"What? Yes, ma'am, I understand. Yes, I'll try to locate them. They should be there soon. Yes, ma'am, right away." Hanging up, he turned to say, "They're shooting now."

Zeke said, "What?"

"Yeah. Seems they have some kind of pistol and they're in the backyard shooting bottles off a fence. Using a flashlight."

"Those crazy kids," said Freddy.

"Must be drunk." responded Elmo, "or doped up."

Yeah, or doped up. thought Zeke.

Joe was leaning easily against the table; he flipped a domino up and asked sarcastically, "Who downs this game? You are going to play another, aren't you? Nothing to get excited about."

Zeke hardly heard him. "Back in jail. Squeaky," he said, as he took his badge out, "we got work to do." He handled the badge, then put it in his pants pocket. Plenty of time to put it on later.

The Response

Elmo locked Squeaky in one of the four cells which made up the city jail at the back of the police station, and the two of them were out of the station in two minutes. Zeke had already gunned one of the two Clear Creek police cars (the chief of police had the other) before he realized Joe was in the back seat, grinning crookedly and saying. "You boys mind if I ride along?"

Zeke said nothing as he drove off, but Elmo replied mirthlessly, "Always like to cooperate with the press." The editor chuckled.

The house on the Old Mill Road was two miles away, on the eastern edge of Clear Creek. The trip had barely begun when the car radio crackled. "Zeke," came Jerry's voice, "call for you. Your wife. How about it?"

"Put her through."

"Zeke, that you?" "Yeah, it's me," he said sourly. "Zeke. I just wanted to call you and tell you I'm sorry. I really am . . . Zeke. are you there?" "Yeah." he said. "Well, I'm sorry, and . . . Zeke, I'm afraid. I'm afraid for Brian. You won't let anything happen to Brian, will you Zeke? Will you?" It was getting worse and worse. The old lady always switched from mean nastiness to slushy sentimentality. She was crying now. "Zeke, you won't, will you?" "Nah," he replied. "Is there anything else?" "I . . . Yes. Zeke. he took your gun." "He what?" "He took it. I looked in the closet and everywhere and it's not there. He took it tonight." "Yeah. I see. It'll be all right now. You go to bed." She said good night and hung up.

The other two looked at Zeke, but he said nothing. He knew what gun she meant. It was a custom made 22 pistol, with a hand-carved stock. He had won it in a sharpshooting contest in California, and now he used it for target shooting and small game. He was almost as proud of it as of the 45 he wore.

And he remembered: He had often taken Brian hunting with him, and Brian had killed a lot of rabbits and squirrels with that 22.

"So your boy's taken your gun from home, has he?" Joe's voice came from about six inches behind Zeke's ear.

Zeke felt like punching him, but before he could answer, Elmo exclaimed. "We're here!"

The big ramshackle house had been empty for years. Now it was dark and quiet. There were no cars, no lights, no shooting.

They sat for a minute. "Let's look around," suggested Zeke.

They found broken bottles in the backyard, and liquor bottles thrown around among broken furniture in the house suggested a wild party. And there were two small empty pill bottles like the one Flo had shown him.

"What now?" Elmo asked.

"We go on back. Nothing here." Zeke and Elmo started back to the car, with the newsman following.

As they started to get in, Joe questioned, "What about the pills?"

"What pills? We only found bottles. Want us to make an arrest on that?" The car radio interrupted him.

Jerry's voice sounded excited: "Zeke. there're some kids just pulled up in front of Hardin's Package Store and busted in the front door. Fellow who saw them is staying there. Better get with it."

"Are they the same kids? They left here."

"Don't know. He just said they drove up in a black Mustang."

Zeke started momentarily, then recovered to say, "We're on our way. Better call the chief."

"Already tried. He's coon hunting tonight."

The others climbed in, and the car spat gravel as Zeke accelerated.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“The chief” was Ancil Jenkins, the man who was responsible for Zeke’s being where he was. Ancil, an old friend, had rescued Zeke when he moved his family back to Clear Creek in 1960.

When they arrived in Clear Creek, the Martins were completely broke. Zeke had been fired from his latest job as the driver of a bakery delivery truck in Midland, when, still drunk from a night of imbibing, he drove through the front window of a local dress shop. No one was hurt, but, in addition to losing his job, to avoid jail time Zeke had to sell everything he had to pay the fine for DWI and to pay for the damages to the store. With nowhere else to go, he brought his wife and 15-year-old son back to Clear Creek, and they moved in with his father (his mother had died when he was young) to live in the tiny house on the 80-acre family farm fifteen miles from Clear Creek.

Ancil and his wife Allie had lived only a quarter of a mile from the Martin farm as Zeke grew up. When he returned in disgrace, Ancil offered him a job at his car repair shop, A-1 Auto Repair, just west of town. (Police Chiefs in Clear Creek almost always had another occupation, since they were elected for two-year terms. The job offered no security.) But he gave Zeke the job only on the condition that he would quit drinking. Zeke went to AA and had been sober ever since.

Ancil had joined the police force in the early ‘50’s, and had been appointed interim chief when the man who preceded him died in an accident in 1957. He was elected chief on his own in May,1958, and had been re-elected every second year since then. And when one of the men on the force resigned in the summer of 1963, he rewarded Zeke for straightening his life out by offering him a job as a policeman. Zeke had jumped at the chance. Now he wasn’t so sure that had been a good idea.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As they sped through the silent night toward the far side of town. Zeke's hand slipped into his pocket and he touched the badge. He couldn't understand it. but he wouldn't wear it unless he had to. Somehow it didn't feel right.

Then they were turning into the block where the package store was located and Zeke was braking to a quick stop as a smallish eighty-year-old man emerged from the house on the corner to meet them. He lived about a half block from the store.

"Never thought you'd get here." he said in a stage whisper as they piled out of the car.

Just got the call." replied Zeke. "What happened?"

"They just drove up and knocked off the lock and went on in. I guess they busted out the light, 'cause it's not on."

"Okay, you stay here. Come on. Elmo, let's go on up there. And you," Zeke indicated the editor with his head, "stay out of the way."

They moved cautiously down the street until they were directly opposite the darkened store. Zeke's heart sank. Even in the hazy illumination of the corner street light, he could tell it was Brian's Mustang.

As they crouched behind a hedge, Joe hissed, "Say. Zeke. isn't that the car I saw your boy driving this afternoon?"

Zeke didn't answer, but under his breath he cursed the newspaperman, and the police force, and his wife, and . . . and himself . . . He hesitated.

Joe spoke again in a noisy whisper: "Well, what're you going to do now, big man? Let them off because he's your son? Sure, that's the thing to do."

"Shut up, d . . . darn you!" came from between Zeke's clenched teeth—he sometimes found it hard to clean up his speech. He was thinking furiously. If there was any way . . . The old fellow on the corner would be all right. And they could fix it with the store owner as long as he paid for the damages. But that editor! No good son-of-a-- Why did he have to be along?

"Well," Joe insisted, "what're you going to do?"

I'm gonna bust you one, to start with, if you don't shut up!" He could see no way out of it. "Elmo, you stay here. I'll go after them." He jabbed his finger at Joe: "Look, if you don't want that camera rammed down your . . . blasted . . . throat, stay out of the way!" He got up and started slowly across the road.

"Zeke," Elmo whispered after him, "be careful. They got a gun."

The Confrontation

From inside the store came the sound of bottles breaking and raucous laughter. They're drunk, Zeke thought, or crazy with dope.

Suddenly from the door came a shout: "Hey, you guys, there's someone coming."

In the dim light Zeke could barely make out several heads sticking out the door. "Yeah, there's someone coming." "That's what I told you, stupid." "How'd they know we were here?" "Hey, it's a cop." "Yeah, it's a cop." "Oh, shut up." "Brian, your dad's a cop; you talk to him."

Zeke walked on, even more slowly. He felt like a dead man.

"Yeah, my dad's a cop." Brian's voice sounded high, unnatural. "A stinking cop. I'll talk to him--like this--" Then there was an arm sticking out the door and something flashed and barked. It took maybe half a second for Zeke to realize he was being shot at. He dived behind the Mustang. The shots were all wild. He must be high on pills, thought Zeke, he can shoot better than that.

"Hey, Brian, you're a sorry shot." "Yeah, Brian, you're a sorry shot." "Aw, I was just trying to scare him." "Come on, Brian, it's my turn, let me shoot at the bottle." "It's not a bottle; it's a copper." "Yeah, it's a copper." "Aw, shut up." The talk went on.

Zeke sat behind the car with his eyes closed, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He had never intended to be a policeman. He had no particular training or qualifications for the job, except for being a good shot and knowing something about explosives--thanks to the U. S. Army. Training hadn't seemed important when Zeke got on the seven-man Clear Creek police force. Still, to show his heart was in the right place he had enrolled in the Acme Detective Correspondence School and dutifully finished the sixteen lessons in three months in the fall of 1963. But learning how to tail people and take fingerprints didn't help much as he picked up drunks and investigated break-ins and gave tickets to people who ran stop signs. The thing he really enjoyed about being a policeman was getting to walk around town with the 45 hanging from his hip in its fancy holster. But the thought of using it made him sick . . .

He fingered the badge in his picket, then took it out and looked at it dully. He remembered the ceremony when he had been officially sworn in.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

He had been hired in July, 1963, and sworn in by Ancil, but at the end of August every year the Clear Creek City Council honored its policemen with an appreciation dinner in the President’s dining room at Sequoyah State College. Mayor Beakley and his wife, the six councilmen and their wives, and Sequoyah’s president (who didn’t have a wife), were all there, along with some of the town’s leading citizens, including Arnold Baker, owner of the local hardware store; Preston McDonald III, the pompous President of the First State Bank; old man Harris, the owner of Harris Department Store; and Haskell Kinder, the biggest man there and probably the most influential man in the county—he owned the Moonshine Club and a batch of real estate.

Zeke remembered that Marlyn “Star” Tucker—Sequoyah’s President—had been the speaker. He didn’t care much for the guy: He was basically a political appointee who had been elected as a county superintendent but was a close friend of the governor. He got his nickname because he was chosen to play a bit part in a movie filmed in western Oklahoma—and he had previously starred in theatrical roles in college and community theater. About Zeke’s age, he was handsome, his hair was thick and black and always neatly combed, and his voice was pleasantly low and appealing.

In spite of these attributes, Zeke had to admit that his speech that night was eloquent. He talked about what policemen did and concluded by saying, “When you put on this badge, you pledge yourself to give everything you’ve got to preserve law and order, to further the common good, and to make this world—and our town—a better place!” Afterwards, everyone on the force took the oath again—vowing to “protect” and “serve” the community, no matter what.

Then everyone present came up to shake the hands of the policemen, to congratulate them, to thank them, and to encourage them to do their duty. Zeke remembered that Haskell Kinder had hugged him and said, “Zeke, we put you where we need you, and I know you’ll do a good job.”

Looking back, Zeke thought, those words—that vow—did they mean anything? He had thought that in signing up for the police force he was just taking on another job. Was that all it was? Maybe it was more . . .

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

As Zeke remembered that oath, he could still hear Flo's voice: "You won't let anything happen to Brian, will you?"

Just then another shot cracked the night air--followed quickly by two more. Zeke looked up to see a bent-over figure come skidding to a stop beside him. "Did you see that?" Joe panted. "They almost killed me! They could have really killed me!"

Zeke could see that his eyes were wide and his face pale and that he was shaking with fear. He grabbed Zeke's shirt with both hands: "Zeke, do something. They're going to kill someone!"

Pushing the hands away, Zeke turned around and peered over the car. "All right in there," he shouted, "this is the police. You can't get away. Just come on out now and no one'll get hurt."

"Who's that?" "It's the cop." "He wants us to come out." "Let's go out; I want to sleep in jail tonight." "Nah," came Brian's strange-sounding voice, "let them come in after us. Let's see if they got guts." A chorus of assent erupted; then another voice said, "It's my turn, Brian." "Shut up, it's my gun." And two more shots came in quick succession, thudding into the car, followed by silence. Reloading, Zeke thought.

"Brian," Zeke shouted hoarsely," throw down the gun. It'll just get you into trouble. Throw down the gun and come out."

After a moment's silence, Brian cried, "It's my Dad, my ever-loving, straight-shooting, alcoholic, copper Dad! Oh Dad, poor Dad, Mama's hung you in-- How's that go?" Laughter broke out in the store.

"Come on, Brian. Lay down the gun."

"Sure, Dad, it's your gun after all. You come on and I'll throw down

the gun."

Zeke took the badge in his left hand, put his right hand on his holstered gun, and carefully started to stand. The 22 fired rapidly twice: one of the bullets broke the car windshield a foot from his face, and he could feel the sting as the other tore a hole in his left shoulder. He dropped. The voices could be heard: "You missed him, Brian." "You pushed me and put off my aim." "I could hit him with a bottle." "Let me shoot." "Aw, shut up."

"Now what?" asked the editor.

"What the . . . Sam Hill . . . do you suggest?" Zeke was churning inside. He tentatively touched the wound in his shoulder, and found that it wasn't bleeding much even though it hurt like all get-out.

"What do you think? Use the gun. What're you wearing it for? They shot at us, didn't they? Do they have to kill someone?"

"Shoot at my own boy?" It was a question directed at himself with a kind of intense wonder, more than at Joe.

"What would you do if it was someone else? You'd get them, wouldn't

you? Wouldn't you?" Zeke was silent. "Well, are you playing policeman, or are you for real?"

"Aw, go to . . . Hades," Zeke muttered as he turned away. He looked warily over the car again. Maybe it was true. Maybe it if was someone else he would already have shot. But something else Joe had said bothered him--something about their killing someone. They were crazy, shooting at everything. Wouldn't it be better if Brian--if he got shot--than if he killed . . .

It was too much for him. He sat down heavily, his mind haunted with the ghost of possibilities. Absent-mindedly he reached down and picked up the badge where he had dropped it when the bullet hit him. He stared at it momentarily, then with a quick motion pinned it to his shirt. With a tired and resigned air, he took his gun from its holster and checked the cartridges.

"Brian," he shouted, "throw down the gun and come out."

"Sure, Dad. Have a drink." A liquor bottle sailed from the store and bounced off the hood of the car.

Zeke crouched low behind the engine. "This is your last chance. Throw down the gun. It'll be better for you."

"Ho, boy, listen to that--just like TV. What show you on. Pop?" Loud guffaws came from the others.

"Brian, if you don't throw down the gun and come out. I'm gonna come after you--with the 45."

There was silence now.

"Brian." Zeke pleaded. In his mind he could see a picture of his boy when he was three years old and holding on to his hand as they walked down to the corner store to get ice cream. "Brian, come on. I don't want to . . ." He felt a moistness at the corner of his eyes.

Brian's voice came, high, hysterical. "Why not. Dad? Why not? After all, what'd you ever do for me? I mean, what'd you ever really do for me?"

"I'm coming, Brian." Zeke straightened slowly.

"Get out of the way," Brian yelled, and three silent figures burst from the door and fled around the building as Zeke moved away from the car, gun in hand at his side. Then another figure stepped from the door and the 22 spat fire three times. Zeke raised his hand and shot once, and the figure crumpled in a heap. Zeke was with him in an instant, kneeling beside him, checking his wound, trying to stop the flow of blood with a handkerchief. And Elmo was there, and three scared college students, with strangely dilated pupils.

"Did you . . . Is he . . .?" asked Elmo.

"Nah. I hit him in the leg. I'm a better shot than that," said Zeke. He wanted to say something to Brian--say it'd be all right now--but the boy was out. Suddenly a bright glare caused him to look up.

"Say, that's beautiful," Joe was saying. "That's right, look up here." The flash went off again, blinding Zeke. "Right on the front page; POLICEMAN SHOOTS OWN SON ENFORCING THE LAW. I never saw anything like it--not ever." Zeke got up, gently putting Brian's head on the ground, and walked over to where the editor stood. "Yes sir," Joe continued, "let me shake your hand. You're the kind of policeman this town needs. You're in line for a commendation. Yes sir." Gravely they shook hands. "I always knew you had it. And next election, I want you to . . . What are you doing?"

Zeke had calmly taken the camera from his hands; now he brought it far back and threw it with all his strength across the street. It landed with a crash against a tree.

"Here-- What--" Joe said in a dazed voice. "Why-- Why, you punk cop! I-- That's assault! I'll ruin you, you--"

"Elmo, call an ambulance," Zeke said, bending down to his boy again. Then, as he cradled the boy's head, he said to Joe in a quiet voice, "Aw, crap on you." With one hand he smoothed Brian's hair, and with the other he carefully polished his badge, and then moved his hand on up, as unobtrusively as possible, to hold his shoulder where blood oozed out of the hole the 22 had made.



March, 1965

Two months later, in March, 1965 . . .


As Zeke slipped through the door of the classroom in Hallford Hall and made his way up the aisle to his front-row seat, his mind whirled with definitions of nouns and verbs and adjectives and interjections. Elmo had spent the morning helping him cram for his midterm test in English 103. So what if the entire on-duty Clear Creek police force spent the morning huddled over the table in the common room at the station, conjugating verbs and memorizing their principal parts? Nothing much happened on Wednesdays anyway. At least, so far as Zeke knew, no banks had been robbed.

Zeke squeezed his six-foot-two-inch frame into the chair, attracting only a minimum of attention from the other students. After half a semester, they were used to the strange sight of the Assistant Police Chief in his jeans, western shirt, and cowboy boots, with his badge prominently displayed, sitting in the front row, bent over his books, struggling to understand the details of Freshman English.

Zeke himself didn’t often think about the incongruity of his starting college the previous summer at the ripe old age of thirty-seven. A high school dropout, he had no intention of getting a college education when he moved his family back to Clear Creek five years before. But when he began work as a policeman almost two years ago, he decided that anyone enforcing the law in a college town needed a college degree. So he got his GED in the spring of 1964, and started college part time that summer, with the assistance of a special fifty per cent “Community Leadership” tuition scholarship awarded by President Tucker himself. Zeke found the classes challenging, but surprised himself by making mostly A's and B's—which contrasted sharply with the C’s and D’s he averaged in high school twenty years earlier.

But Zeke wasn’t thinking about his decision to go to college; in fact, he was scarcely aware of the presence of the other students as he struggled to remember the rules for punctuation. It was only after the test was handed out that a sudden movement across the aisle caught his attention. The young man next to Zeke had thrown up both hands for no apparent reason. Now he brought them down again, flapping his arms like wings. The young man--Zeke thought his name was Billy--was smiling and had a faraway glazed look in his eyes. As Zeke watched, Billy used his test to make a paper airplane and then sent it sailing across the room. With that, he got up, stumbling slightly, and made his way back down the aisle and out the door. Someone tittered, and the instructor looked up from the book she had been reading. Looking around, she saw nothing amiss and went back to her book.

Zeke saw it all, shook his head in perplexity, and went back to the test. Later, he recalled that moment and wondered: If I had done something, would things have been different? Maybe four people wouldn't have died. But he would always shrug, as if to say, Who knows?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Zeke felt pretty good about his life at the moment. The encounter with the liquor store burglars had turned out to be a blessing. He had had to shoot his son in the leg—fortunately no permanent damage was done, no bones broken--and he still carried a twenty-two slug in the shoulder as a memento of the event--but the judge had been lenient: he gave Brian a two-year sentence, and then, since no one had been hurt--or so the Judge thought--he suspended it. After all, he owed Zeke a favor or two. Then, when the boy volunteered to join the Army, Judge Smithers arranged to have him pardoned and his record expunged. So Brian was in the Army now, had been for three weeks, and was being trained at Fort Sill. "The army's the best thing that ever happened to Brian," Zeke often said to his buddies.

Besides that, Zeke himself had experienced a brief moment of glory because of the incident. Joe Barnhill, editor of the Clear Creek Times, had made a big deal out of his breaking up the burglary even though it meant wounding his son. (Apparently, Zeke concluded, he thought a sensational story was worth a broken camera.) Overnight Zeke became a local hero. So much so, in fact, that Ancil Jenkins, the Police Chief, made him Assistant Police Chief--a position that hadn't existed before--and gave him a small pay raise.

And another good thing had happened: He and his wife Flo seemed to be getting along better. Why? He wasn’t sure. Maybe it was because she didn’t have to worry about Brian anymore? Or because she was now the wife of the Assistant Police Chief? Or maybe because she had made friends with other ladies in the community since she had started attending a Ladies Class on Tuesdays at the Barren Fork Church of Christ—thanks to being invited by Maude Turner, who, with her husband Tom, had recently moved into the neighborhood. Or maybe, Zeke thought, he had changed in some way.

Whatever the reason, things were much more pleasant at home these days. And Flo had recently decided to go to the Beauty College in Madison, thirty miles away. She had started her classes only two weeks ago and only went three days a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday--, but it seemed to Zeke that since she started back to school, she generally looked better and acted nicer. Zeke licked his lips thinking of the improvement.

So on that beautiful spring day Zeke found himself in a college classroom with a bunch of eighteen-year-old freshmen taking a midterm English test—and feeling pretty good about himself and his life.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Zeke didn't finish the test until the period ended--he often wondered how some of these kids could complete a fifty-minute test in fifteen minutes--but he felt good about the results. "Think I got my usual eighty-five," he said to the instructor with a smile as he handed in the test. He stepped out into the sunshine, stretched, and started for his pickup to head back to the station. Then he noticed a commotion at Goingsnake Hall, a dormitory on the other side of the Commons. There was a crowd of people on the ground, looking and pointing up at a third floor window. There Billy stood, just outside a window on a narrow ledge, holding on with one hand while he waved the other and shouted over and over, "It's a bird; it's a plane; it's Superman. I'm Superman! I can fly. Einstein's Theory of Relativity, logarithms, and the square of the hypotenuse--! I can fly--"

Zeke sprinted for the door of the dorm, shouting at the gathered crowd to call emergency, the fire department, the police. In a matter of seconds he was on the third floor, looking for the right room. He ran into two empty rooms before he encountered the locked door of Billy's room. A quick moment, a surge across the hall, a sharp pain in his shoulder--and the door splintered open. He rushed to the window and grabbed--thin air--as he heard the college student cry out for the last time. "I can fly!" Zeke leaned over and saw Billy's body spreadeagled on the concrete sidewalk below. Even from that distance, the boy looked dead. The day turned sour. Zeke felt sick.

He collapsed back into the room and sat down heavily on one of the two single beds. He sat there, his head in his hands, for what seemed an eternity, then started to rise as the sound of sirens announced the arrival of various emergency vehicles. When he pushed himself off the bed his hand touched and then closed on something strange. He brought it up and even in his stunned condition he recognized it--a small pill container--now empty--like the one Flo had found in their son's bedroom that fateful night when, high on drugs, he'd burglarized a liquor store. He pocketed it and left the room.


The next morning Zeke showed the pill container to Ancil Jenkins, the Police Chief. They were sitting at his desk drinking coffee and planning the day.

Zeke hadn't slept well. The vision of the dead boy merged with memories of his own son high on drugs. He felt guilty because, in his concern to try to get Brian's life sorted out, he hadn't bothered to wonder where the drugs came from. Maybe if I had done something then . . .

Now he asked, "Where do you reckon he got them?"

Ancil was an affable bald fifty-two year-old of average height. He knew everyone in town and everyone knew—and liked—him. He walked with a limp and usually his tanned and wrinkled face was guarded by a Yankee baseball cap (he had been a fan of the Yankees ever since the Oklahoman Mickey Mantle started playing for them). Now he shrugged, then began fiddling with his pipe as he answered, “Who knows? Maybe he brought them from home. Maybe in Tulsa. You never know with these college kids."

"Yeah, maybe." Zeke replied, silent for a moment as he stared at the mysterious, somehow sinister, container. "But maybe he bought them around here."

"Nah, nobody sells drugs in Clear Creek. We'd know it."

"Ancil, this looks like the same stuff we found in Brian's room."

The Police Chief had finished preparing his pipe and now he paused in the process of lighting it. "Oh. Yeah. I almost forgot. Still, two cases don't add up to a drug problem." He lit the pipe and exhaled a foul-smelling cloud of bluish smoke. "Forget it, Zeke. It was unfortunate, and we're sorry. But that's it."

Zeke sat silent for a long minute, lost in thought. "Wasn't there another case? Before I came on the force. Some college kid stopped his pickup beside the road, got out, went walking down the center of the highway, silly grin on his face, hand out to stop traffic--as if he couldn't be hurt. Got run over by an eighteen-wheeler that couldn't stop in time?"

"Yeah, but no proof it was drugs."

"Didn't do a blood test?"

"On the body? Parents don't like it."

But Zeke persisted: "Maybe it was drugs."

"Maybe it wasn't," Ancil said. "It's done, Zeke. Forget it. Here,"--he handed a dispatcher's note to Zeke--"we got a call from someone who thinks old Widow Perkins has too many cats in her house. Check it out."

Zeke checked it out all right, taking Elmo, the other half of the day patrol, with him. They walked through Mrs. Perkin's house, counting--they thought--twenty-three felines. The smell was overpowering, but the little apple-cheeked hand-wringing lady seemed oblivious to it. Zeke wrote her a warning ticket, inventing a number for an ordinance he called the "Furry Animal Nuisance Prohibition." "Now you need to do something about this," he told her sternly. "I don't want to have to come out here again."

"Oh, I will, officer, I will," she said.

"Good, I know you will," he replied with a smile.

"Never heard of that law," Elmo grunted as they got into the police car.

"If there ain't--isn't--one, there oughta be," Zeke said. But he was thinking about Ancil. Ancil almost never pulled rank like that--and why wouldn't he want to check out the drug situation?

"Where you goin'?" Elmo asked.

"By the house," Zeke said. Zeke and Flo lived just four miles out of town. They were there in ten minutes. "Wait," Zeke told Elmo, and hurried into the house, surprising his wife as she read the paper and had her morning coffee.

"Zeke, what--" she asked.

"Just needed to get something, Hon." He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then went into their bedroom and from his sock drawer got the little bottle of pills they had found in Brian's room. What he hadn't told Ancil--or anyone else--is that there were still half a dozen pills in that bottle. Zeke hadn't done anything about it then; maybe it was time for him to do something now.

Their next stop was the college--first the Science Building, to see Dr. Augustus Corcoran--Dr. Gus, as he was called, tall, thin, fifty-ish, single, genuinely absent-minded, and a truly talented chemist and chemistry teacher. Fortunately, the professor was free and able in just a few minutes to identify the pills. Straight to the point, he summed it up: "Lysergic acid--LSD. Very potent. Popular with college students. Illegal. Where'd you get it?"

Zeke ignored the question. "Could it make a kid think he could fly?"

Gus paused, then nodded. "It could. One possible effect is that it makes people think they are invincible. Nothing can stop them: bullets, knives, nothing. So I wouldn't be surprised if some kid might take it, fixate on Superman, and decide he could fly."

Zeke said, "Thanks," and turned to go.

"You're thinking about Billy Guyton, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Just wondering why he flew off that ledge."

"It's possible, Zeke."

Zeke said goodbye and left, picked up Elmo at the Student Center, where he'd spent the time admiring the college girls, and together they made their way across the Commons to Goingsnake Hall. They found the door to Billy's room still smashed--Zeke wondered whether the college would bill the police department for the door, maybe even take it out of his salary--he hoped not--but they knocked anyway. Billy's roommate, a kid named Randy Jones, was there, doing homework at his desk. On Billy's bed were piled all his belongings: his parents had been there and would be back.

"Come on in," Randy said.

Zeke put the pill bottle he had taken from his sock drawer down on the desk. "Ever see this before?" he asked.

Randy turned white. "It . . . it looks like . . . Billy's. But I didn't use it! Honest, I didn't."

It turned out Randy was ready to talk. Yes, he knew Billy used drugs. Yes, he knew what kind. No, he didn't know how much or for how long. And yes, with a great deal of hesitation he admitted he did know where Billy bought the stuff. At least he knew the phone number.

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