Hippy Saves The World Episode 2: Matter

I left town with so many possibilities of where to go, it would have been easier to stay. But there was no staying, not after killing Dexter Green. I would say “poor old” Dexter Green, but he was neither poor nor old. If you remember me saying, Dex was an asshole and, so as much as I wish I wasn’t the one who took him out of this world, well the world is better for it.

I parked my work truck at my apartment, leaving it for Tim or one of the guys to pick up. The little I needed fit into the saddlebags on my 2016 Ultra Classic Limited Low. My bike wanted to head south, and since it was as good as any other direction, I crossed the Ohio River, leaving Indiana for Kentucky.

Usually, no matter what was wrong, a few miles on an open road and I was me again. But killing a man, even one was ornery as Dex, that wasn’t something bright sun and a warm wind could fix.

I rode on, waiting for some direction, some inspiration, or some…something.

The fork in the road made me choose: stay on 69 toward Fulton or get onto Western Kentucky Parkway toward Hopkinsville. I opted for 69 and soon, I was headed for Memphis. When I took a break at a rest stop, I knew where I was going. Because a place like that doesn’t like unexpected guests, I made a phone call. After a solid five hours, I parked in the garage of the Peabody Hotel.

Now, if this were a movie, a character in the situation I’m in would find the cheapest, dirtiest motel in the nastiest part of town to hide from the law.

Well, fuck that.

If the law was gonna to come after me for ridding the world of cancerous growth like Dexter Green, they were going to come to the best there was. And in Memphis, nothing out classed the Peabody. I sat in the Grand Lobby, enjoying a sweet tea and remembering the trips Teresa and I had made here over the years. We both got a kick out of watching the ducks march in or out of the lobby.

It didn’t take much to make people happy.

Just a few ducks, waddling to and from a fountain.

The people entertained me as much as the ducks. It was something to see tour busses pull up and people of all shapes and sizes flock toward the waterfowl. They jockeyed for position. They oohed and ahed. They giggled and pointed. And, of course, they had phones out snapping pictures.

My favorites are the ones who stare at their screen without ever looking at the real-life thing in front of them.

The ducks filed out and, at a slower pace, the audience did the same. I was among them, the city of Memphis stretching out in all directions in front of me. A few short blocks away was Beale Street and beyond it the place Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, part of the National Civil Rights Museum. If you haven’t been, go. It’s as much a part of our history as Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, and the Alamo.

Instead of heading south, though, I went north to one of the most distinctive buildings in Memphis, the Pyramid. The glass tower was home to a scenic overlook, a top end restaurant, an excellent hotel, and Bass Pro Shop.

On the early side of dinner, I sat alone at a table with a view. I dropped a text to Tim to make sure he had my truck. He did and confirmed what I knew: Dex was dead and the police had questions for me.

What was there to say? I backed a truck over the guy.

Did I do it on purpose? Hell, no. But I did it.

I’ll go back eventually. Just not yet.

My waitress was a sweet woman named Shirlee. It wasn’t a name you heard much these days and I said so.

“I’m named after my mother’s sister,” she said. “She died when my mother was pregnant with me. A drunk driver drifted left of center.”

“It doesn’t take much,” I said, thinking of Dex.

“No,” she said. “And it takes even less at sixty miles an hour.”

We chit chatted a bit but as the restaurant filled, her stops by my table were more and more professional. She didn’t rush me. In fact, I would say she appreciated the calm I brought. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call me a ballast to the three men sitting two tables over. One had his back to me; the other two I could see. They were loud in a place where a steak can put you back a c-note. Their choice of language wasn’t fit for public consumption. They were half-drunk and wholly disreputable.

I recognized their kind from over forty-years on a construction site. They are too young to be good at much of anything, too stupid to want to learn, and too arrogant to care.

Now let’s be clear. I am not, in anyway, saying this is normal for young people today.

No, I am not.

Assholes like these three, like Dex, have been around forever. As much as I said they were too young, too stupid, and too arrogant, it’s truly a matter of respect. When you respect others as people, you don’t make it your life’s work to tear them down.

You certainly don’t do it for fun, the way these three were with Shirlee.

The one on the end facing me reached out and grabbed her breast. “Squishes like dough,” the asshole we’ll call Lefty said to his buddy when she pulled away. “If that’s Victoria’s secret, she should lock the door and throw the key into the Mississippi.”

My fist tightened on my steak knife as Shirlee ran away.

The three pounded fists and beer bottles on the table. “Shirlee. Shirlee. Shirlee.”

“Don’t be that way,” Lefty shouted. He pulled out his wallet, took out bills and slapped them on the table. “Here’s a tip; buy a bra.”

The three devolved into laughter as a man in a good suit approach. The manager was somewhere in the neighborhood of forty, close to six-foot, and struggling to control his temper. He crossed the room to the assholes’ table, all attention was on him.

Two tables away, I couldn’t hear him. He wasn’t shouting, which showed an immense amount of personal restraint. The one with his back to me was answering.

Everyone heard him. “Listening? Oh, I’m listening. Want me to repeat back what you said? Blah, blah blah, blah fuckin’ blah.” The one we’ll call Van Gogh talked over, through, and around the manager.

A woman at the table across the aisle couldn’t take it anymore. “You are exactly the kind of people who shouldn’t be let into a place like this. Pay your bill and get out.” The Karen wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t help diffuse the situation.

“Eating for two?” Van Gogh asked. “Or is it five? You’re lucky they don’t charge by weight.”

The manager held up his hand to the woman, silencing her outrage. “You have two choices,” he told the table, loudly and distinctly. “Leave or police. Now.”

The trio stood quickly, their chairs crashing to the ground. The last of the men swept his arm across the table, sending the glass and porcelain to the ground. The carpet did little to cushion the blow. What gravity didn’t break, the third man, one we’ll call Stumpy, did. He laughed as his thick soled boots crushed the beer bottles. Lefty snatched Karen’s plate and tossed it onto the mess. Stumpy jumped, landing on it with both feet. He hurriedly stepped back as the plate slid out from under him, laughing as he regained his balance.

“Do it again,” Lefty said, sweeping just about everything from Karen’s table.

Stumpy did it again. Lefty laughed like a jackal.

Things were coming to a head with the manager and Van Gogh saw it. “Come on, let’s go. The food sucks here anyway.”

The three walked out without a care in the world, joking and talking about where they were going next. Behind them was a restaurant full of shock and unhappiness.

Shirlee came to my table, doing her best to hide how shook up she was. “I’m sorry about all that, Hippy. I hope it didn’t take too much away from your dinner.” Her hands trembled as she smoothed her shirt. Behind her, two young men cleaned up the mess.

“Don’t worry about me,” I said to ease her. “Take a few moments for yourself.”

She shook her head as she laughed nervously. “Better to keep busy. Would you like coffee? Dessert?”

It wasn’t right.

“Just the check, please. I have some business I need to see to tonight.”

“On a Friday? Well, make sure you don’t work too hard or too long.” She set the bill on the table.

I set two-hundred-dollar bills down and stood up. “I don’t plan on doing either. Keep the change. And don’t think twice about those boys. They aren’t worth it.”

I left Shirlee just as one of bussers set the tray of broken plates and glass on the table. “Let me help you with that,” I said, taking the bus tray with me as I left.

Now, it wasn’t a mystery where Lefty, Van Gogh, and Stumpy were going. I was maybe seven minutes behind them, taking the glass elevator down to Bass Pro. It’s not surprising that they were causing trouble on the main floor. Stumpy had his socks and shoes off and trudged through the lazy river. A little kid stood on the edge watching him, all wide-eyed like kids get. Stumpy’s arms went wide. He roared like a bear and kicked water at boy, making him run to his mom.

Van Gogh and Lefty were huddled over something. I couldn’t see what they were up to, but it wasn’t good as they kept looking over their shoulders.

I wasn’t a stranger to the store. Not only am I a regular customer back home, but I had done some window shopping prior to heading up to dinner. I set the bus tray next to one of the columns that held up the staircase. Then I went straight to a display of knives and selected Ka-Bar. The big ‘ol Crocodile Dundee knife would make a point about respect that a man couldn’t ignore. I picked up duct tape and some bungee cords. I didn’t have time to work out the math.

Either it would be right, or it wouldn’t.

Stumpy was still kicking up a storm in the shallow pool, his mouth running ahead of his brain whenever men, women, and children crossed his path. I listened to every word while I taped the knife to the post, the sharp blade pointed to heaven.

“Excuse me, ladies,” I said, stopping two women in the same age bracket as Stumpy. “Could you do me a favor and go to that landing up there and attach these bungees around the post.”

Their gaze went from my old face, to the knife, to the bus pan of broken dishes. “Whatcha gonna do?” the taller one asked.

I grinned, couldn’t help it. “I’m gonna give Stumpy there a lesson in respect. Seems likely he missed school that day.”

The taller took the cords. “Give him a lesson for us.” Those brave girls ran up the stairs and appeared at the railing. They let one hook drop down and wrapped the other around the railing post. When they finished, four were hanging down plus two more in my hands.

“Call him,” I said, hoping they could hear me. “Call him over.”

The shorter one backed away, shaking her head, clearly a woman with good sense. The taller one didn’t hesitate. “Hey handsome, watcha doin’ with those ducks?”

Stumpy’s attention snapped upward. The girl was worth looking twice at. “I knew you liked me. Why don’t you come down and I’ll show you.” He kept his eye on her, not on where he was walking.

The girl shook her head. “I’m wearin’ white. I wanna stay dry.”

Ol’ Stumpy licked his lips as he reached the spot near to under her. “I’ll bet you look really good wet.”

“I look good when I’m wearing nothing at all.” She was keeping his attention.

Stumpy had no idea I was behind him. When you’re as old as me, speed isn’t the kind of option it once was. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get the job done.

“I’ll bet you do. Why—hey. What the fuck?” Stubby screamed. Not unexpected since his arms were tied behind him and he was moving, but not toward a pretty girl.

I slapped a long piece of tape over his mouth and then three more because I’d heard his mouth. I reached up to the dangling hooks and had him rigged up before he understood what was going on. The bungies and ties kept him against the column but gave him room to move up and down. He started to kick out but felt the kiss of the Ka-Bar. I know because he froze like a rabbit.

I stood in front of him, holding the tip of another Ka-Bar between my index finger and thumb. “Class is in session.”

His eyes locked on the gleam of the blade.

“The twin brother to his knife is taped to the column under you. I did a pretty good job guessing how tall you are. That’s what experience gives you, a good eye.” I turned to the side and picked up the bus tray. “You recognize this?”

I was patient, waiting for him to answer. When you’re teaching a lesson, patience was a must.

He shook his head.

“This is all glasses and dishes and silverware you knocked off the tables at the restaurant.” I pulled out the neck of a beer bottle, it’s jagged edge advertising pain. “You remember now?”

Reluctantly, he nodded.

“Now, we are getting somewhere. Okay, in physics, there is this thing called entropy which says that things tend toward chaos. What does that mean?”

He looked at me like I was a little crazy, which was fine, ‘cause I was feeling a little crazy. When I waited, he shook his head again.

“What it means,” I said, “is that the shit you broke, isn’t going to fix itself. In fact, it can’t be fixed. You took perfectly good glasses and plates and reduced them to chaos.” I shook the tray, the contents scraping across the bottom and into each other. “There’s no going back to what they were. But, that doesn’t mean they’re useless.” I dropped the tray at his feet. “Step in.”

He shook his head, quickly this time.

I picked the knife back-up, changing my grip. “Step in. Don’t make me tell you a third time.”

He tried screaming, whipping his head one way and then the other. A few people were gathering around. There was the mother whose child was still crying on her shoulder. The old man with the Vietnam Veteran hat. The two young women who baited my trap.

His victims.

There was no help coming.

He lifted one foot, yelping and standing taller when his weight sank onto the long blade.

“Now you get the idea,” I said, shoving the bus tray firmly under him. “Your bare feet are going to stand on the glasses and dishes. You pick them up and Ka-Bar is going to do us all a favor and make sure you don’t reproduce.”

The leg he had up, sunk down. I poked the back of his other knee. He brought his leg up quickly up, felt the knife, and then down twice as fast. He jammed his foot onto the detritus he created. His scream was muffled, tears ran down his cheeks as the jagged edges ripped skin apart.

“That’s good,” I said. “Real good. Any questions?”

He had plenty to say but the tape did it’s job. I would guess it was along the lines of “I’m sorry,” “it wasn’t me”, and “let me go.”

An explosion rocked the corner of the store. It wasn’t much louder than an M-80, but in the close confines, it felt a hundred times louder.

“We got this one,” the veteran said.

“Thank you for your service,” I said. “Then and now.”

I marched across the store, acquiring a few things along the way. Some were ordinary, like zip ties, some were not.

Van Gogh and Lefty were packing a small tin with Tannerite. The two-part mix was a household name in legal explosives. When mixed and put in a container, it became live. When struck by a center fire cartridge, it detonates.

The two of them knew enough to be dangerous, but not efficient, which was why the first explosion wasn’t much more than a firecracker. But they were working to correct their mistake.

I turned to see what was handy to contain these two before they succeeded in killing me before the cops had a chance to. Behind me was a group of three men armed with ropes and such.

I never had a posse before.

This was cool.

“Take cover,” one said, and we all did a full second before their second explosion. This one of a M-100 grade.

Still, they were too close, and it knocked them on their asses. They were so busy congratulating themselves they didn’t notice us. That is, not until they were bound, taped, and being carried back to Stumpy.

When they were fully trussed up, I went to Lefty. “When did you start hurting women?” I didn’t ask him if he hurt women. Asking him would have only given him the opportunity to lie. It was obvious from the way he handled Shirlee that he did. “Who was the first one you hit? Your mother? Your girlfriend?”

Lefty lifted his chin, adrenaline convincing him he was brave. “What the fuck is it to you? I don’t do anything they don’t deserve.”

I put the tape back in place and smiled. “Me, too.”

Armed with a newly acquired Barnett XP400 crossbow with a pack of broadheads for big game, I aimed at his right shoulder. The first broadhead went under the clavicle and didn’t come out. The second got the first out and took a chunk of the shoulder with it. Since I’m a measure twice and cut once kind of guy, I put a third into the joint. I hoped I shattered it, but that would be for a doc to determine. I had reason to be optimistic. Lefty’s right arm was a dead weight hanging at his side.

I slapped his cheek, helping him stay conscious. “You with us? That’s right, school’s still in session.”

Stumpy whimpered, getting my attention. He made his choice. His knees were locked straight, sacrificing his feet for his nuts.

I looked into the bus tray. “Not much blood. I imagined more. Don’t worry, I can fix that.”

“No,” he said, through the tape. I ripped one side off. His first intelligible words were, “I’m sorry.” He was covered in sweat, tears, snot. If it came out of your head, he was leaking it.

“I’m sure you are. And you’ll be more sorry when your pinkie toes are in your pockets instead of your shoes.”

“Are you going to kill him,” a young voice asked from behind.

I turned to the child who wasn’t a teen yet. “No,” I said. “Dead people can’t learn lessons. These boys didn’t bother to learn when they were your age, so they have to learn now. Stumpy over here took other people’s property and stomped on it till it was the mess you see there. He didn’t respect the work other people do but I expect he does now.”

Stubby nodded vigorously. “I do, I do, I swear.”

We looked to the meat at the other end. “Lefty there never learned that you don’t raise your hand to people, especially those weaker. Now, he doesn’t have to worry about it. He won’t be raising that hand again.”

“What about him?” The boy pointed at Van Gogh. “What did he do?”

“It’s more like what he didn’t do, and that was listen.” I rose and went to the man, the NF Five-Seven hanging from my hand. It’s a nice handgun for when you want to fire rifle-sized rounds out of a handgun.

He sneered at me, nearly foaming at the mouth. “I don’t answer to you. I don’t care what any of you say.”

“That is exactly why we are here, Van Gogh.”

He was sweating, the pea he called a brain working so hard it was turning to soup. “Why are you calling me that? That ain’t my name. You gonna call me, you call me by name.”

“Like you did to the manager? You don’t listen. If you’re not going to listen, there’s no point to having ears.” The big gun took his left ear off as neatly as a scalpel. Or close enough. Fired that close, he wouldn’t be hearing anything for a while. Or longer.

Van Gogh crumbled as much as he could, howling inarticulately as blood ran down him.

I stepped back, the three students in front of me, my posse behind. “Gentleman, since the moment you sat in the restaurant, you failed to respect those around you. You treated hard working people like trash, you threatened the safety of people shopping in this fine store. You lived life like you were the only ones in the world. You are not.” I lifted my arms, the NF Five-Nine still in my hand. “This is your lesson on respect.”

Stumpy gritted his teeth. “Respect?”

I nodded. “It’s not a big word. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You just found out what it means to me.”

“Make them sing it,” a woman said from over my shoulder. Her friend, standing next to her, nodded. “The way Aretha did.”

And just when you thought you knew where this story was going…it took a turn for Motown.

“Now for myself, I’m content with what we’ve done here. But these ladies, they are not. Because I respect their point of view, you’re gonna sing for us.” I smiled and you would have, too.

Saxophones rang out from a mobile device made for taking pictures. But music from the soul sounded good on any speaker. Otis Redding’s words from Aretha Franklin’s lips rang out across Bass Pro at the Pyramid. And three very sorry voices joined in.

During the refrain, with the help of an employee who will not be named, I made my exit. I could hear the sirens but couldn’t see the lights as I walked to The Peabody. Back in my room, I called Teresa.

“Where are you? Are you alright? What are doing?” The questions kept coming until she ran out of breath.

“I’m in Memphis, but not for much longer. I’m fine. Did a little clean up tonight. Do me a favor, look up Bass Pro here on the internet.”

Teresa put me on speaker, telling me about our kids and grandkids and everything else she could think of. “It says the police came on a strange mob scene at Bass Pro where three men were being forced to sing Aretha Franklin hits while they bled from wounds. What did you do?”

“Nothing much.” I told her. “I taught a class on the matter of respect.”

“Respect,” she said with a question in her voice. “Hippy, come home.”

“Not yet. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She sniffled, her voice breaking. I’d made her cry. “Where will you go next?” “Isn’t that the question. I’ll call you when I know.”


END STUFF

No ducks – real or decoy – were harmed in the making of this episode.

If you haven’t seen the ducks walk, check out the Peabody Hotel. Everything about the Pyramid is cool. Really, everything about Memphis is worth seeing for yourself.

Thanks to Josh for picking the weapons and Hippy for making sure I used them right.

Josh, happy 2023. Godspeed.

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