A Painted House - Page 18

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Chapter 18

It was Saturday again, but Saturday without the usual excitement of going to town. I knew we were going because we had never skipped two Saturdays in a row. Gran needed groceries, especially flour and coffee, and my mother needed to go to the drugstore. My father hadn't been to the Co-op in two weeks. I didn't have a vote in the matter, but my mother knew how important the Saturday matinee was to the proper development of a child, especially a farm kid with little contact with the rest of the world. Yes, we were going to town, but without the usual enthusiasm.

A new horror was upon us, one that was far more frightening than all this business about Hank Spruill. What if somebody heard what the Latchers were telling? It took just one person, one whisper at one end of Main Street, and the gossip would roar through the town like a wildfire. The ladies in Pop and Pearl's would drop their baskets and cover their mouths in disbelief. The old farmers hanging around the Co-op would smirk and say, "I'm not surprised." The older kids from church would point at me as if I were somehow the guilty one. The town would seize the rumor as if it were the gospel truth, and Chandler blood would be forever tainted.

"A Painted House"

So I didn't want to go to town. I wanted to stay home and play baseball and maybe go for a walk with Tally.

Little was said over breakfast. We were still very subdued, and I think this was because we all knew the truth. Ricky had left behind a little memory. I wondered to myself if he knew about Libby and the baby, but I wasn't about to bring up the subject. I'd ask my mother later.

"Carnival's in town," Pappy said. Suddenly the day was better. My fork froze in midair.

"What time are we goin'?" I asked.

"The same. Just after lunch," Pappy said.

"How late can we stay?"

"We'll see about that," he said.

The carnival was a wandering band of gypsies with funny accents who lived in Florida during the winter and hit the small farming towns in the fall, when the harvest was in full swing and folks had money in their pockets. They usually arrived abruptly on a Thursday and then set up on the baseball field without permission, and stayed through the weekend. Nothing excited Black Oak like the carnival.

A different one came to town each year. One had an elephant and a giant loggerhead turtle. One had no animals at all but specialized in odd humans-tumbling midgets, the girl with six fingers, the man with an extra leg. But all carnivals had a Ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, and two or three other rides that squeaked and rattled and generally terrified all the mothers. The Slinger had been such a ride, a circle of swings on chains that went faster and faster until the riders were flying parallel to the ground and screaming and begging to stop. A couple of years earlier in Monette, a chain had snapped, and a little girl had been flung across the midway and into the side of a trailer. The next week the Slinger was in Black Oak, with new chains, and folks lined up to ride it.

There were booths where you threw rings and darts and shot pellet pistols to win prizes. Some carnivals had fortune-tellers, others had photo booths, still others had magicians. They were all loud and colorful and filled with excitement. Word would spread quickly through the county, and people would flock in, and in a few hours Black Oak would be packed. I was desperate to go.

Perhaps, I thought, the excitement of the carnival would suppress any curiosity about Libby Latcher. I choked down my biscuits and ran outside.

"The carnival's in town," I whispered to Tally when we met at the tractor for the ride to the fields.

"Y'all goin'?" she asked.

"Of course. Nobody misses the carnival."

"I know a secret," she whispered, her eyes darting around.

"What is it?"

"Somethin' I heard last night."

"Where'd you hear it?"

"By the front porch."

I didn't like the way she was stringing me along. "What is it?"

She leaned even closer. " 'Bout Ricky and that Latcher girl. Guess you got a new cousin." Her words were cruel, and her eyes looked mean. This was not the Tally I knew.

"What were you doin' out there?" I asked.

"None of your business."

Pappy came from the house and walked to the tractor. "You'd better not tell," I said through clenched teeth.

"We keep our secrets, remember?" she said, moving away.


I ate lunch quickly, then hurried about the task of getting myself scrubbed and bathed. My mother knew I was anxious to get to town, so she wasted no time with her scouring.

All ten Mexicans piled into the back of the truck with me and my father, and we pulled away from our farm. Cowboy had picked cotton all week with broken ribs, a fact that had not gone unnoticed by Pappy and my father. They admired him greatly. "They're tough people," Pappy had said.

The Spruills were scurrying about, trying to catch us. Tally had spread the word about the carnival, and even Trot seemed to be moving with a purpose.

When we crossed the river, I looked long and hard down the field road that led to the Latchers' place, but their little shack was not visible. I glanced at my father. He was looking, too, his eyes hard, almost angry. How could those people have intruded into our lives?

We crept along the gravel road, and soon the Latcher fields were behind us. By the time we stopped at the highway, I was once again dreaming of the carnival.

Our driver, of course, would never get in a hurry. With the truck so loaded with people, I doubted if it would do thirty-seven, and Pappy certainly didn't push it. It took an hour, it seemed.

Stick's patrol car was parked by the Baptist church. Traffic on Main was already slow, the sidewalks brimming with activity. We parked, and the Mexicans scattered. Stick appeared from under a shade tree and walked straight for us. Gran and my mother headed for the stores. I hung back with the men, certain that serious matters were about to be discussed.

"Howdy, Eli. Jesse," Stick said, his hat tilted to one side, a blade of grass in the corner of his mouth.

"Afternoon, Stick," Pappy said. My father just nodded. They had not come to town to spend time with Stick, and their irritation was just under the surface.

"A Painted House"

"I'm thinkin' 'bout arrestin' that Spruill boy," he said.

"I don't care what you do," Pappy shot back, his anger rising fast. "Just wait till the cotton's in."

"Surely you can wait a month," my father said.

Stick chewed on the grass, spat, and said, "I suppose so."

"He's a good worker," my father said. "And there's plenty of cotton. You take him now, and we'll lose six field hands. You know how those people are."

"I suppose I could wait," Stick said again. He seemed anxious to reach a compromise. "I been talkin' to a lot of people, and I ain't so sure your boy here is tellin' the truth." He gave me a long look as he said this, and I kicked gravel.

"Leave him out of it, Stick," my father said. "He's just a kid."

"He's seven years old!" Pappy snapped. "Why don't you find you some real witnesses."

Stick's shoulders drew back as if he'd been hit.

"Here's the deal," Pappy said. "You leave Hank alone until the cotton's in, then I'll drive to town and let you know we're finished with him. At that point, I don't care what you do with him."

"That'll work," Stick said.

"But I still think you ain't got a case. It was three against one, Stick, and no jury will convict."

"We'll see," Stick said smugly. He walked away, thumbs in his pockets, with just enough of a swagger to annoy us.

"Can I go to the carnival?" I asked.

"Of course you can," Pappy said.

"How much money do you have?" my father asked.

"Four dollars."

"How much you gonna spend?"

"Four dollars."

"I think two's enough."

"How'bout three?"

"Make it two-fifty, okay?"

"Yes sir." I ran from the church, along the sidewalk, darting between people, and was soon at the baseball field, which was across the street from the Co-op, the Dixie theater, and the pool hall. The carnival covered it all, from the backstop to the outfield fence. The Ferris wheel stood in the middle, surrounded by the smaller rides, the booths, and the midway. Shrill music rattled from the loudspeakers on the merry-go-round and the carousel. Long lines of people were already waiting. I could smell popcorn and corn dogs and something frying in grease.

I found the trailer with the cotton candy. It cost a dime, but I would've paid much more for it. Dewayne saw me at the midway as I was watching some older boys shoot air guns at little ducks that swam in a pool. They never hit them, and this was because, according to Pappy, the gun sights were crooked.

Candied apples were also a dime. We bought one apiece and took our time inspecting the carnival. There was a witch in a long black dress, black hair, black everything, and for twenty-five cents she could tell your future. A dark-eyed old lady could do the same thing, for the same price, with tarot cards. A flamboyant man with a microphone could guess your age or your weight for a dime. If he didn't get within three years or ten pounds you won a prize. The midway had the usual collection of games-softballs thrown at milk jugs, basketballs aimed at rims that were too small, darts at balloons, hoops over bottlenecks.

We strolled through the carnival, savoring the noise and excitement. A crowd was gathering at the far end, near the backstop, and we drifted over. A large sign proclaimed the presence of "Samson, the World's Greatest Wrestler, Direct from Egypt," and under it was a square mat with padded poles in the corners and ropes around it. Samson was not in the ring, but his appearance was only moments away, according to Delilah, a tall, shapely woman with the microphone. Her costume revealed all of her legs and most of her chest, and I was certain that never before had so much skin been exposed in public in Black Oak. She explained, to a silent crowd mostly of men, that the rules were simple. Samson paid ten-to-one to any person who could stay in the ring with him for one minute. "Only sixty seconds!" she yelled. "And the money is yours!" Her accent was strange enough to convince us that they were indeed from another land. I'd never seen anybody from Egypt, though I knew from Sunday school that Moses had had some adventures there.

She paraded back and forth in front of the ring, all eyes following her every move. "On his current tour, Samson has won three hundred matches in a row," she said, tauntingly. "In fact, the last time Samson lost was in Russia, when it took three men to beat him, and they had to cheat to do it."

Music started blaring from a lone speaker hanging on the sign. "And now, ladies and gentlemen!" she shouted above the music, "I present to you, the one, the only, the greatest wrestler in the world, the incredible Samson!"

I held my breath.

He bounded from behind a curtain and jumped into the ring amid tepid applause. Why should we clap for him? He was there to whip us. His hair was the first thing I noticed. It was black and wavy and fell to his shoulders like a woman's. I'd seen illustrations of Old Testament stories where the men had such hair, but that was five thousand years ago. He was a giant of a man, with a thick body and ridges of muscles clumped around his shoulders and down his chest. His arms were covered with black hair and looked strong enough to lift buildings. So that we might get the full benefit of his physique, Samson wasn't wearing a shirt. Even after we'd spent months in the fields, his skin was much darker than ours, and now I was really convinced that he was from parts unknown. He had fought Russians!

"A Painted House"

He strutted around the ring in step with the music, curling his arms and flexing his mammoth muscles. He performed like this until we'd witnessed all he had, which was more than enough, in my opinion.

"Who's first?" Delilah yelled into the microphone as the music died. "Two-dollar minimum!"

The crowd was suddenly still. Only a fool would crawl into that ring.

"I ain't scared," somebody yelled, and we watched in disbelief as a young man I'd never seen before stepped forward and handed two dollars to Delilah. She took the money and said, "Ten-to-one. Stay in the ring for sixty seconds, and you'll win twenty dollars." She shoved the microphone at the young man and said, "What's your name?"


"Good luck, Parley."

He climbed into the ring as if he had no fear of Samson, who'd been watching without the slightest hint of worry. Delilah took a mallet and struck a bell on the side of the ring. "Sixty seconds!" she said.

Parley moved around a bit, then retreated to a corner as Samson took a step in his direction. Both men studied each other, Samson looking down with contempt, Parley looking up with anticipation.

"Forty-five seconds!" she called out.

Samson moved closer, and Parley darted to the other side of the ring. Being much smaller, he was also much quicker, and apparently was using the strategy of flight. Samson stalked him; Parley kept darting.

"Thirty seconds!"

The ring was not big enough to run much, and Samson had caught his share of scared rabbits. He tripped Parley during one of his sprints, and when he picked him up, he wrapped an arm tightly around the boy's head and began a headlock.

"Oh, looks like the Guillotine!" Delilah gushed, with a little too much drama. "Twenty seconds!"

Samson twisted his prey and grimaced with sadistic pleasure, while poor Parley flailed at his side.

"Ten seconds!"

Samson whirled and then flung Parley across the ring. Before Farley could get up, the World's Greatest Wrestler grabbed him by the foot, lifted him in the air, held him over the ropes, and with two seconds to go, dropped him to the ground for the victory.

"Wow, that was close, Samson!" Delilah said into the microphone.

Parley was in a daze, but he walked away in one piece and seemed to be proud of himself. He had proved his manhood, had shown no fear, and had come within two seconds of winning twenty bucks. The next volunteer was likewise a stranger, a bulky young man named Claude, who paid three dollars for a chance to win thirty. He weighed twice as much as Parley but was much slower, and within ten seconds Samson had nailed him with a Flying Dropkick and wrapped him into a Pretzel. With ten seconds to go, he hoisted Claude over his head, and in a magnificent display of strength, walked to the edge of the ring and tossed him.

Claude, too, walked away proudly. It was apparent that Samson, despite his theatrics and menacing demeanor, was a good sport and would not harm anyone. And since most young men wanted to have some contact with Delilah, a line soon formed at her side.

It was quite a spectacle, and Dewayne and I sat for a long time watching Samson dispose of one victim after another with all the moves in his repertoire. The Boston Crab, the Scissors, the Piledriver, the Jackhammer, the Body Slam. Delilah merely had to mention one of the maneuvers in her microphone and Samson would quickly demonstrate it.

After an hour, Samson was soaked with sweat and needed a break, so Dewayne and I scooted off to ride the Ferris wheel twice. We were debating whether to get another helping of cotton candy when we heard some young men talking about the girlie show.

"She takes off everything!" one of them said as he walked by, and we forgot about the cotton candy. We followed them to the end of the midway, where the gypsies' trailers were parked. Behind the trailers was a small tent that had obviously been erected so that no one would see it. A few men smoked and waited, and they all had a guilty look about them. There was music coming from the tent.

Some carnivals had girlie shows. Ricky, not surprisingly, had been seen leaving one the year before, and this had caused quite an uproar in our house. He wouldn't have been caught if Mr. Ross Lee Hart had not also been caught. Mr. Hart was a steward in the Methodist church, a farmer who owned his land, an upright citizen who was married to a woman with a big mouth. She went searching for him late on a Saturday night, in the midst of the carnival, and happened to see him leaving the forbidden tent. She wailed at the sight of her wayward husband; he ducked behind the trailers. She gave chase, yelling and threatening, and Black Oak had a new story.

Mrs. Hart, for some reason, told everyone what her husband had done, and the poor man was an outcast for many months. She also let it be known that leaving the tent right behind him was Ricky Chandler. We suffered in silence. Never go to a girlie show in your hometown was the unwritten rule. Drive to Monette or Lake City or Caraway, but don't do it in Black Oak.

"A Painted House"

Dewayne and I didn't recognize any of the men hanging around the girlie tent. We circled through the trailers and flanked in from the opposite side, but a large dog had been chained to the ground, guarding against Peeping Toms like us. We retreated and decided to wait for darkness.

As four o'clock approached, we had to make a painful decisiongo to the matinee, or stay at the carnival. We were leaning toward the picture show when Delilah appeared at the wrestling ring. She had changed costumes, and was now wearing a two-piece red outfit that revealed even more. The crowd flocked to her, and before long Samson was once again hurling farm boys and hillbillies and even an occasional Mexican out of the ring.

His only challenge came at dark. Mr. Horsefly Walker had a deaf and dumb son who weighed three hundred pounds. We called him Grunt, not out of disrespect or cruelty-he'd just always been called that. Horsefly put up five dollars, and Grunt slowly climbed into the ring.

"He's a big one, Samson," Delilah purred into the mike.

Samson knew it might take a bit longer to shove three hundred pounds out of the ring, so he attacked immediately. He went in low with a Chinese Take-Down, a move designed to slap both ankles together and cause the opponent to collapse. Grunt fell all right, but he fell on Samson, who couldn't help but groan in pain. Some of the crowd yelled, too, and began cheering on Grunt, who, of course, couldn't hear a thing. Both men rolled and kicked around the ring until Grunt pinned Samson for a second.

"Forty seconds!" Delilah said, the clock running much slower with Samson flat on his back. He kicked a few times, to no avail, then employed the Jersey Flip, a quick move in which his feet swung up and caught Grunt by the ears, then rolled him backward. Samson sprang to his feet as Delilah narrated the moves. A Flying Dropkick stunned Grunt.

"Fifteen seconds!" she said, the clock once again moving quickly. Grunt charged like a mad bull, and both men went down again. The crowd cheered again. Horsefly was hopping around the outside of the ring, delirious. They grappled for a while, then Delilah said, "Ten seconds."

There were some boos directed at the timekeeper. Samson twisted and yanked Grunt's arm behind his back, grabbed a foot, and slid the poor boy across the ring and through the ropes. He landed at his father's feet. Horsefly yelled, "You cheatin' sonofabitch!"

Samson took offense to this language and motioned for Horsefly to enter the ring himself. Horsefly took a step forward and Samson spread the ropes. Delilah, who'd obviously seen such threats many times, said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. He hurts people when he's angry."

By then Horsefly was looking for a reason to hold his ground. Samson looked ten feet tall standing at the edge of the ring, sneering down. Horsefly bent down to check on Grunt, who was rubbing his shoulder and appeared to be on the verge of tears. Samson laughed at them as they walked away, then to taunt us, began flexing his biceps as he strolled around the ring. A few in the crowd hissed at him, and that was exactly what he wanted.

He handled a few more challengers, then Delilah announced that her man had to eat dinner. They'd be back in an hour for their final exhibition.

It was now dark. The air was filled with the sounds of the carnival; the excited screams of kids on the rides, the whoops and hollers of the winners at the booths on the midway, the music shrieking forth from a dozen assorted speakers, all playing different tunes, the constant jabbering of the barkers as they enticed folks to part with their money to view the world's largest turtle or to win another prize, and, above all, the overwhelming electricity of the crowd. People were so thick you couldn't stir 'em with a stick, as Gran liked to say. Mobs crowded around the booths, watching and cheering. Long lines snaked around the rides. Packs of Mexicans moved slowly about, staring in amazement, but for the most part, hanging on to their money. I had never seen so many people in one place.

I found my parents near the street, drinking lemonade and watching the spectacle from a safe distance. Pappy and Gran were already at the truck, ready to leave but willing to wait. The carnival came only once a year.

"How much money you got?" my father asked.

" 'Bout a dollar," I said.

"That Ferris wheel doesn't look safe, Luke," my mother said.

"I've been on it twice. It's okay."

"I'll give you another dollar if you won't ride it again."

"It's a deal."

She handed me a dollar bill. We agreed that I would check back in an hour or so. I found Dewayne again, and we decided it was time to investigate the girlie show. We darted through the throng along the midway and slowed near the gypsies' trailers. It was much darker back there. In front of the tent were some men smoking cigarettes, and in the door was a young woman in a skimpy costume swinging her hips and dancing in a naughty way.

"A Painted House"

As Baptists, we knew that all manner of dancing was not only inherently evil but downright sinful. It was right up there with drinking and cussing on the list of major transgressions.

The dancer was not as attractive as Delilah, nor did she reveal as much or move as gracefully. Of course, Delilah had years of experience and had traveled the world.

We sneaked along the shadows, advancing slowly until a strange voice from nowhere said, "That's far enough. You boys get outta here." We froze and looked around, and about that time we heard a familiar voice yell from behind us, "Repent, ye workers of iniquity! Repent!"

It was the Reverend Akers, standing tall with his Bible in one hand while a long, crooked finger pointed out from the fist of the other.

"You brood of vipers!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

I don't know if the young lady stopped dancing or if the men scattered. I didn't bother to look. Dewayne and I hit the ground on all fours and crawled like hunted prey through the maze of trailers and trucks until we saw light between two of the booths on the midway. We emerged and got lost in the crowd.

"You think he saw us?" Dewayne asked when we were safe.

"I don't know. I doubt it."

We circled around and wandered back to a safe spot near the gypsies' trailers. Brother Akers was in fine form. He'd moved to within thirty feet of the tent and was casting out demons at the top of his voice. And he was having success. The dancer was gone, as were the men who'd been hanging around smoking. He'd killed the show, although I suspected they were all inside, hunkering down and waiting him out.

But Delilah was back, wearing yet another costume. It was made of leopard skin and barely covered the essentials, and I knew Brother Akers would have something to say about it the next morning. He loved the carnival because it gave him so much material for the pulpit.

A regular mob crowded around the wrestling ring, gawking at Delilah and waiting for Samson. Again, she introduced him with the lines we'd already heard. He finally jumped into the ring, and he, too, had chosen leopard skin. Tight shorts, no shirt, shiny black leather boots. He strutted and posed and tried to get us to boo him.

My friend Jackie Moon crawled into the ring first, and like most victims, engaged the strategy of dodging. He darted around effectively for twenty seconds until Samson had had enough. A Guillotine, then a Turkish Roll-Down, as Delilah explained, and Jackie was on the grass not far from where I was standing. He laughed. "That wasn't so bad."

Samson wasn't about to hurt anybody; it would harm his business. But as his final exhibition wore on, he became much cockier and yelled at us constantly, "Is there a man among you?" His accent was of some exotic variety; his voice was deep and frightening. "Are there no warriors in Black Oak, Arkansas?"

I wished I were seven feet tall. Then I'd hop up there and attack ol' Samson while the crowd went wild. I'd whip him good, send him flying, and become the biggest hero in Black Oak. But, for now, I could only boo him.

Hank Spruill entered the picture. He walked along the edge of the ring between bouts, and stopped long enough to get Samson's attention. The crowd was silent as the two glared at each other. Samson walked to the edge of the ring and said, "Come on in, little one."

Hank, of course, just sneered. Then he walked over to Delilah and took money from his pocket.

"Ooh la la, Samson," she said, taking his cash. "Twenty-five dollars!"

Everyone seemed to be mumbling in disbelief. "Twenty-five bucks!" said a man from behind. "That's a week's work."

"Yeah, but he might win two hundred fifty," said another man.

As the crowd squeezed together, Dewayne and I moved to the front so we could see through the grown-ups.

"What's your name?" Delilah asked, shoving the microphone up.

"Hank Spruill," he growled. "You still payin' ten-to-one?"

"That's the deal, big boy. Are you sure you want to bet twenty-five dollars?"

"Yep. And all I gotta do is stay in the ring for one minute?"

"Yes, sixty seconds. You know Samson hasn't lost a fight in five years. Last time he lost was in Russia, and they cheated him."

"Don't care 'bout Russia," Hank said, taking off his shirt. "Any other rules?"

"No." She turned to the crowd, and with as much drama as she could muster, she yelled, "Ladies and gentlemen. The great Samson has been challenged to his biggest fight of all time. Mr. Hank Spruill has put up twenty-five dollars for a ten-to-one fight. Never before in history has someone made so large a challenge."

Samson was posturing around the ring, shaking his sizable locks and looking forward to the skirmish with great anticipation.

"Lemme see the money," Hank growled at Delilah.

"Here it is," she said, using the microphone.

"No, I wanna see the two-fifty."

"We won't be needing it," she said with a laugh, a chuckle with just a trace of nervousness. But she lowered the microphone, and they haggled over the details. Bo and Dale appeared from the crowd, and Hank made them stand next to the small table where Delilah kept the money. When he was convinced the money was in place, he stepped into the ring, where the great Samson stood with his massive arms folded over his chest.

"A Painted House"

"Ain't he the one who killed that Sisco boy?" someone asked from behind us.

"That's him," was the reply.

"He's almost as big as Samson."

He was a few inches shorter, and not as thick in the chest, but Hank seemed oblivious to any danger. Samson started dancing around on one side of the ring while Hank watched him and stretched his arms.

"Are you ready?" Delilah wailed into the microphone, and the crowd pressed forward. She hit the bell. Both fighters eyed each other fiercely. Hank stayed in his corner, though. The clock was on his side. After a few seconds, Samson, whom I suspected knew he had his hands full, waded in, dancing and juking and bobbing like a real wrestler is supposed to do. Hank was still.

"Come on out, boy!" Samson boomed from five feet away, but Hank kept to his corner.

"Forty-five seconds," Delilah said.

Samson's mistake was to assume that it was a wrestling match, instead of a brawl. He came in low, in an effort to apply one of his many grips or holds, and for a split second left his face open. Hank struck like a rattler. His right hand shot forward with a punch that was almost too quick to be seen, and it landed flush on the mighty Samson's jaw.

Samson's head jerked sharply, his handsome hair slung in all directions. The impact caused a cracking sound. Stan Musial could not have hit a baseball any harder.

Samson's eyes rolled back in his gigantic head. Because of its size, it took Samson's body a second to realize that its head had been crippled. One leg went woozy and bent at the knee. Then the other leg collapsed, and the World's Greatest Wrestler, Direct from Egypt, landed on his back with a thud. The small ring bounced and its ropes shook. Samson appeared to be dead.

Hank relaxed in his corner by placing his arms on the top ropes. He was in no hurry. Poor Delilah was speechless. She tried to say something to assure us that this was just part of the exhibition, but at the same time she wanted to jump into the ring and tend to Samson. The crowd was stunned.

In the center of the ring, Samson began groaning and trying to get to his feet. He made it to his hands and knees, and rocked back and forth a few times before he managed to pull a foot forward. With one great lurch he tried to stand, but his feet weren't with him. He lunged toward the ropes and managed to catch them to break his fall. He was looking directly at us, but the poor guy saw nothing. His eyes were red and wild, and he seemed to have no idea where he was. He hung on the ropes, tottering, trying to regain his senses, still searching for his feet.

Mr. Horsefly Walker ran up to the ring and yelled to Hank, "Kill the sonofabitch! Go ahead, finish him off!"

But Hank didn't move. Instead, he just yelled, "Time!" but Delilah had forgotten about the clock.

There were a few cheers and jeers from the crowd, but for the most part, it was subdued. The spectators were shocked at the sight of Samson floundering, his senses knocked out of him.

Samson turned and tried to focus his eyes on Hank. Clutching the ropes for support, he stumbled a couple of steps, then made one last, desperate lunge. Hank simply ducked out of the way, and Samson landed hard on the corner pole. The ropes strained with his weight and the other three poles seemed ready to break. Samson was groaning and thrashing about like a bear who'd been shot. He pulled his feet under him and steadied himself enough to turn around. He should've stayed on the mat. Hank darted in and threw an overhand right, a punch that began in the center of the ring and landed exactly where the first one did. Since his target was defenseless, he reloaded and landed a third and final blow. Samson went down in a heap. Delilah screamed and scrambled into the ring. Hank relaxed in his corner, arms on the top ropes, grinning, no concern whatsoever for his opponent.

I wasn't sure what to do, and most of the other spectators were quiet, too. On the one hand, it was good to see an Arkansas boy so thoroughly crush this Egyptian giant. But on the other hand, it was Hank Spruill, and he'd used his fists. His victory was tainted, not that it mattered to him. All of us would've felt better if a local boy had battled Samson evenly.

When Hank was certain that time had expired, he stepped through the ropes and jumped to the ground. Bo and Dale had the money, and the three of them disappeared.

"He done killed Samson," someone behind me said. The World's Greatest Wrestler was flat on his back, arms and legs spread wide, his woman crouched over him, trying to wake him. I felt sorry for them. They were wonderfully colorful, an act we wouldn't see again for a long time, if ever. In fact, I doubted if Samson and Delilah would ever return to Black Oak, Arkansas.

When he sat up, we relaxed. A handful of good folks clapped softly for him, then the crowd began to break up.

Why couldn't Hank join the carnival? He could get paid for beating up people, and it would get him off our farm. I decided to mention it to Tally.

"A Painted House"

Poor Samson had worked hard all day in the heat, and in a split second had lost the day's wages. What a way to make a living. I'd finally seen a worse job than picking cotton.


Tags: John Grisham Mystery
Source: www.freenovel24.com