My daughter was born in Japan, and still lives there at the time of this post. She wrote a book about her time working at a Japanese company. It’s a collection of events along with stories of the experience, handwritten with illustrations. I just got my copy today, and love it! https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Johnna+slaby&ref=nb_sb_noss
Hit-men, mechanic, cleaner, whatever the term, they usually keep to themselves, and don’t advertise. And if one is needed, who really knows if it’s even possible, but you put the word out in the street perhaps in an article as a challenge in the newspaper, and wait for someone to contact you.
My uncle met a hitman not from an ad, but by chance. Yes, that’s right a hit man. How do I know? He told me one afternoon during one of the many lazy days I spent at his place. Not much evidence you say, just hearsay, and you’d probably be right. So, the only proof I have to offer is the missing middle finger on his right hand which he said was shot off during a shootout.
Let me go back to the past and share some details. Occasionally in the afternoon when my mother went shopping, she’d drop me off at my uncle’s place. At that time, he lived in a third-floor apartment of an old dark green Victorian house located in a medium sized town next to the Mississippi river. I went there again and again, and many times over until I was around ten years old and would pass the time putting together model cars and airplanes until my mother picked me up. The afternoons went by quickly and I didn’t mind going to his place because he had cameras, along with military paraphernalia to look at and play with. Also, there was a wall covered with bookshelves filled with a wide variety of books covering every topic from A to Z.
From what I understood from the many stories my uncle shared during the time I spent there found out he was photographer when he lived in Europe, and believe why there were so cameras at his place, and it seemed to be a plausible story. That’s how I got interested in photography. This particular day I got the nerve to ask him about the missing middle finger on his right hand as it was completely gone from what I could see. I spent the rest of that afternoon listening to the story of how he met a hitman. He said it all started with a candy bar. He told me a story that went something like the following.
There was a guy, who while working in the telecommunications industry out in the field, tired, and had a craving for a candy bar one afternoon. So, he pulled into a small country store on his way home, and since he was low on gas, thought, might as well fill up the tank. It was the first time he’d stopped at this particular convenience store. He pulled up to the pump, turned off the engine, and noticed the car parked on the other side of the gas pump right away, because it was his car, well the car he’d always wanted—a Porsche. Sitting in the Porsche was a young woman, who looked about twenty something. She had dark, brown, wavy shoulder length hair holding and smoking a cigarette, which he thought was a dangerous thing to do at a gas pump. Hey, dumb ass, don’t you know you’re not supposed to smoke at gas stations. Want to blow us all to kingdom-come! That’s what he thought, but said, in a friendly way, “Don’t you think it’s foolish to smoke while you’re buying gas? Could cause an explosion and blow us all to Kingdom Come.”
“She turned toward him, smiled tenderly. “You’re right,” she said in a contrite syrupy southern accent and crushed out the cigarette. “You’re absolutely right! What am I thinking?”
This girl was drop dead gorgeous, a real Georgia Peach. Since this was the North, and he recognized her Southern twang, asked, “What part of the South are you from?”
“Georgia,” she said. “What’s your name, handsome?”
He chuckled, and said, “Joe.”
Joe was right, a Georgia Peach, and he loved her thick syrupy drawl. “Really,” Joe said. “What part of Georgia?”
“Augusta,” she said in the same sweet twang.
“Augusta,” Joe said delighted. “I used to live there.”
“Really,” she said surprised. “When did you move up here?”
“I grew up here,” Joe said. “My dad was in the Army, so we moved around a lot. We ended up here after he was discharged. His hometown is near here.”
“How long did you live in Augusta?” she asked.
“Oh, not long,” Joe said. “I don’t remember much, because I was only three, or so years old when we moved away after my dad was discharged.”
“What about you? What are you doing up here? Vacation?”
“My boyfriend’s a hit-man,” she said. “He’s here to whack someone.”
Joe’s brain stopped. Silence fell as if the world had frozen over. Did I just hear her say her boyfriend was a hitman? “Excuse me!” Bewildered he said, “What did you say? Say what?”
“Sorry,” she smiled astutely. “I’m not supposed to say anything. It’s a secret—hush, hush.” And raised her right-hand’s index finger to her lips, locking whatever secrets she had away for safe keeping.
He’d just pulled up to the pump, hadn’t started filling the gas tank, still thinking about which candy bar to buy, and this girl tells him her boyfriend is a hitman. He thought, Am I at a convenience store or the Twilight Zone?
“So, your boyfriend’s going to—whack someone—and then you’re heading back home?” Joe couldn’t believe he’d asked that question. I thought hitmen were from New York or Chicago.
“I guess so,” she said in a bubbly way, waving her hands like she was heading to an amusement park. “I don’t really know the details. Just along for the ride.”
Up to now in his life this had been the most bizarre conversation he’d ever had, and whispered under his breath, Should I tell someone? Call the police? Maybe she’s pulling my leg? If she is telling the truth how will I react when I see her boyfriend? He immediately turned to see who was leaving the store, and saw older gentleman come out and get into his car. His head turned constantly from her sitting in the car watching her head bouncing to the music, then back to observe the store like a tennis fan watching a match and looked pretty silly.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t say anything to him. He only whacks people for money; not for spite or fun.”
“That’s nice of you for mentioning that,” Joe said, “thanks.” He wanted to get back on the topic of Georgia, but that was on the back burner of his mind, because HITMAN—HITMAN—HITMAN echoed in his brain. What was he supposed to ask now, By the way, how long has he been a hitman? How did he get into that line of work? Does it pay well? Do you ever help him? All the questions running through his head were absurd.
Finally, he said, “Well, nice talking to you,” In a transitive state squeezed his eyes tightly wondering, when I open them will I be in a different place. Then after opening his eyes, thought, Still at the gas pump, and mumbled, “I’ve got to fill up the tank.”
“Okay,” she said. “Nice talking to you.”
Joe took out the gas nozzle and filled the tank while continuing to keep an eye on the store trying to guess who her boyfriend was as customers walked out. No one stood out, no one looked like a hitman, of course he was using TV and movie hitmen as a model. Real hitmen are probably invisible like the Ninja. The tank was full, so he put the nozzle back, nodded and smiled at the girl, walked into the store to pay for the gas, and get a candy bar.
There was a line in front of the counter, so as he waited scanned the store for the hitman. He saw one guy by the cooler who had the TV hitman look, another guy getting a cup of coffee, one guy reading a magazine. Joe watched everyone who left the store wondering, who will walk over and get into to the Porsche
Finally, it was his turn to pay. “I had the gas on pump-five, and I’ll take this candy bar.” Then Joe felt a shadow blocking out the light behind him. He didn’t turn, but thought, Could this be the hit-man? Joe paid the clerk and walked out, but wanted to see what the big guy standing behind him looked like, so he stopped by the trash can outside next to the door, torn off the wrapper from the candy bar, and looked around as he stood there pretending to be busy. The big guy gave a quick glance and kept on walking. He was tall, stocky, had a few days of beard stubble, thick eyebrows and dark brown eyes. Joe waited, fiddling with the candy bar wrapper, as the man walked to the gas pumps. That’s him! He’s got to be—the hitman.
The man walked slowly without a care, in control, then got into a truck that was pulling a horse trailer. “That wasn’t him.” He whispered, “I can’t stand here all day eating a candy bar, I should just go.” Then, a hyper guy of average height” came out and threw a candy bar wrapper in the trash can. The same candy bar that Joe was eating.
He looked at Joe, held up the candy bar. “These are really good, aren’t they?” Then asked, “How’s it going?” in a friendly way.
“Not bad,” Joe said. “Yourself?”
“Good, good. I just got here from out of town,” he said as he opened his drink. “Drove up from Georgia. What about you?” he asked, then took a drink.
Joe watched the man’s Adams Apple move up and down as he held the bottle and took another gulp, the man’s eyes on him the whole time. Joe’s mind raced. Georgia? This is the guy. The hitman’s talking to me, then he saw the girl in the Porsche waving. The guy waved back. Joe nodded.
The hitman from Georgia, Joe thought, and grinned, nervously. He could feel chocolate stuck to his teeth and felt he would be tongue-tied if he spoke now.
The man looked at him and laughed. “Man—you’ve chocolate all over your teeth,” then laughed again. “So, do you live around here?” the hitman asked.
Are all hitmen so amiable, he wondered as he tried to get the chocolate off his teeth with his tongue, then said, “Yeah, I do.”
“A long time?”
“Grew up near here.” Is he going to ask me for directions? If he does, maybe I’ll know who he is after, and get word to the police, then again, maybe that’s not a good idea.
“You must know your way around here pretty well.”
“I guess so,” Joe said, thinking, What’s the next question going to be? Will I know who it is? This town is small. Joe was feeling edging, tapping his feet, putting his hands in his pockets, taking them out, making funny facial movements. “Is that your, Porsche over there?” Joe thought, Why did I ask that?
“Yeah,” the hitman said. “A beauty, isn’t it?”
Now what do I say? “That’s my truck on the other side of the pump.” I’m sure he’s impressed, Joe thought, and looked at his old truck. “I talked to your girlfriend when I was filling up.”
“Oh, yeah?” the hitman smiled, then asked, “What did she say? She’s cute, right?”
Oh—nothing much. Just that you were from Georgia, and I told her that I used to live there,”
“Get out a here,” the hitman said, and slapped him on the back. “What part?”
“Augusta! He said cheerfully like seeing an old classmate. “That’s where we’re from.
“Well, I moved away when I was only three or four, so I don’t remember much, in fact nothing.”
“Well, you lived there, and that’s all that counts in my book, so we’re like neighbors, friends.”
“Yeah, okay, if you say so.”
“How’s the hunting around here?” the hitman asked.
“Hunting?” Joe said, like a word he’d never heard before, like it was a word from another language.
“Yeah, hunting, the hitman said. “People hunt around here, don’t they?”
“Yeah—they do—they sure do.”
“What about you,” the man said, and punched Joe in a friendly way on the shoulder. “Do any hunting? Say—I was just asking because I’d like to do some target practice.”
“Target practice?” Joe asked.
“I just bought a new rifle. Like to check out the scope to make sure it’s lined up. Do you know a place?”
“There’s a quarry straight down that road,” Joe said. “Follow it all the way to the top of the hill, and you’ll see the sideroad that leads there. You can drive right in. That’s where some people around here go.”
“Well, thanks, and good luck to you.”
“Yeah, good luck to you, too,” Joe said.
Joe watched him walk to the Porsche and wave before he got in, the girl blew Joe a kiss, the Porsche purred as they drove away,
Joe got into his truck and followed from a distance. Would a hitman want anyone to know about target practice? Seems strange. Joe followed him to the quarry. It’s funny; the man acted like such a friendly guy. Is he really a hitman? And the girl, she talked about it like going on a picnic or something; so blasé. The man does have nice taste in cars though. I wonder who he’s going to knock-off.
The Porsche pulled into the quarry and drove down the narrow road that led to one of the pits. From there, the man would be able to aim and shoot down the valley about three-hundred yards. Joe wondered what kind of weapon he had.
Joe waited for a while, then parked off to the side on another road above the quarry where he’d have a good view. He was quiet, took out a pair of binoculars that he kept in the glove box, and made his way to the edge of the woods.
Both of them stood around the car hugging, kissing, then the hitman stepped around to the front, opened the hood, took out a long black case, and set it on the ground. That must be the rifle, Joe thought, as the man opened the case and proceeded to remove the equipment. “It’s true, he must be a hitman; all of his doubts erased. Now, who is he here to knock-off?”
Joe watched through his binoculars. He saw the rifle jerk the man’s head and shoulder back, then heard a rifle crack, then echo off the jagged quarry walls. The shooter was proficient, an exceptionally good shot, dead on. After about half an hour he packed everything, they drove away, and heading back into town. Joe followed them, staying as far away as possible without being noticed.
They went to the motel outside of town. It was a one-story building with a vending machine out front. The office was in the owner’s house. Joe found a spot in the car dealer’s lot located across the street, planted himself, and watched them check into the motel, unpack the gun case and a few other bags.
I should call the sheriff, he thought, I know he’s a killer, but he hasn’t done anything, but shoot at some stones in a quarry. What will the sheriff say? Maybe they can’t do anything unless they have some evidence, or proof that he’s actually planning to knock off someone. If I just knew who it was?
Joe got tired of sitting in front of the motel, and had nothing going on that night, so I decided to stop at the local watering hole, grab a beer, and see what was happening. He parked out in front, went in and ordered a beer. It was slow, just a few regulars, some pool players, a few chicks, and him.
The beer was going down nice and easy, so he lost track of time. It was dark now and the bar was getting crowded. Joe raised his bottle to take a drink, then felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. It was him, the hitman and his girl. “Hey, how are doing?”
“Not feeling any pain,” Joe said. “What about you?”
“Great! Hey, thanks for the tip about the quarry,” the hitman said. “It was fantastic. I got in some target practice,” he held his arms up like he had the in his hand, “had a lot of fun, too.”
“That’s great!” Joe said. “Just, what are you hunting for?”
“Oh, you know,” the man said, “whatever. We’re on vacation, traveling around, taking in the sights.”
“There’s not much to see around here,” Joe said.
“Oh, I disagree,” the man said. “What do you think, Lynn?”
“I love this place,” she said. “It’s away from the city, nice and quiet.”
“Yeah—that’s a good way to put it, Lynn daring, nice and quiet, the hitman said, “a good place for someone to disappear.”
Joe thought for a moment. What should I say? “Yeah, you’re right this town is a good place to disappear for a while.”
“Just out of curiosity,” then the man raised an eyebrow looked at him with a grin. “What are you doing here? You seem like a pretty smart guy. Why do like this place? What do you do? And, you know,” he said, “I never asked your name.”
“I’m a carpenter,” Joe said, then thought, Should I tell him my name? The last thing I need is a hitman who knows who I am. “It’s, Joe,” he said, “nice to meet you.”
“Joe the carpenter?” the hitman said in a raised voice, then took his thumb and rubbed his nose. “I’m Billy. They shook hands, then the man asked,
“You shoot pool, Joe?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Looks like the table free, Joe, let’s go shoot some stick.”
They played pool and then Joe left the bar. As Joe drove home, he thought, Who’s the lucky person? His place was in the country just outside town and took about thirty minutes to drive home. When he got there his dog, Buster was waiting for him. Buster was a black and brown collie, the smartest dog ever. He bought him from a farmer when it was a pup, and they hit it off immediately.
Buster followed Joe into the house and went to the dish and got something to eat. “That’s a good boy, hungry, aren’t you?” Joe said, and watched him gobble down his supper
Joe put his coat on a chair and got a beer from the fridge, Buster finished eating and went to his coat and began sniffing it. What does he want with my coat? Joe picked it up and searched the pockets. In one pocket he found an envelope, took it out, stared at it, flipped it over, then opened it. There was a key inside; he studied it and wondered where it came from. It looked like a locker key, but where was the locker? Also, there was a note folded numerous times, like origami. It said, Payment for Priest, and was signed, Fox.
What does that mean? And, how did it get into my pocket? Joe tried to piece together what he’d done the previous night. I bought gas, a candy bar, then went to the bar, took off my coat and left it on the chair when I played pool with the hitman, Billy. Somehow during that time, the key got into my pocket. Payment for Priest. Don’t know anyone named, Fox?
Joe turned all night thinking about it, then got up early the next day, made coffee, a couple of fried eggs, never taking his eye off the key that sat in the middle of the table. He watched it as he ate breakfast and drank his coffee. He cleaned off the table, at the same time looking at the key, then jumped, startled and dropped a cup when, Buster started barking. He walked to the window, and saw a Porsche parked in the driveway. “Billy,” he muttered. The hitman was there throwing a stick for Buster to retrieve. He knows about the key! How did he find my place? He threw a fishing magazine over the key and went outside. “Morning,” he said. “What brings you out here?” he asked.
“I think you know why,” the hitman said. “You have something of mine?”
“What do you mean?”
“The note, and key,” he said very clearly.
“How did it get into my pocket?”
“I put it there.”
“Let’s go inside,” the hitman said, and walked in front of me.
Joe didn’t know what to make of it. Who is this guy? What does he want? Joe thought and followed him into the house. The hitman sat at the table his eyes followed Joe. Am I the target? Joe thought. Why me?
“Want a cup of coffee?” Joe asked.
“Sure, thanks.” They both looked at the magazine.
“How do you like it?’
“Simple and plain,” the hitman said soft and slow.
Joe handed him a cup and poured. “Say, when.”
Joe put the pot back on the stove and sat down. “What’s on your mind?”
“I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“What kind of proposition?”
“One—that involves money.”
“Money? How much money?”
“What do I have to do?”
“Did you read the note?”
“Yeah” Joe said. “Who’s the priest?”
The hitman looked Joe square in the eye. “I am.”
“What kind of priest?”
“The kind that makes people pay for their sins.”
“Joe couldn’t take anymore and said straight out, “You kill people for money?”
The hitman moved the magazine and picked up the key. The hit-man’s right hand looked strange; a finger was missing. “I kill people for a lot of money.”
“What happened to your finger?” Joe asked.
“Shot off in a gun fight,” the hitman said.
“What’s this got to do with me?”
“I don’t want to kill people anymore.”
“What’s this got to do with me,” Joe asked again. The hitman handed him the key from the table and the key for his car.
“Take it,” the hitman said. “Take the money. Take the car.” I’ll take your place.”
“That’s all there is to it,” the hitman said. “You can never come here again.”
“Wait—wait a minute,” Joe said. “Why me?”
“No special reason. Maybe it’s your destiny?”
“Where’s the money?”
“It’s in a locker at a warehouse. I’ll give you directions, if you say, yes.”
Joe thought, Am I in a dream? Wake up? What’s happening here? “What if I run out of money?” I asked.
“If you run out of money, you contact Fox.”
“Fox is the banker, he said, but, if he finds out about this, we’re both dead.”
“What do I do, just call him on the phone?”
“Hopefully, you never will, but if you want to contact him put an ad in this newspaper,” Billy said, and handed Joe an address,” he’ll send instructions, you follow them, and get paid.”
“What about the girl, Lynn?”
“She stays with me.”
“I can never come back?”
“I’ll go outside and play with your dog,” Billy the hitman said. “What’s its name?”
“Buster, I like that,” Billy said, and walked outside. “You take a little time, then let me know, okay?”
Joe watched Billy play with Buster. Why am I even thinking about this? What would I do?
He wondered how much money was in the locker, then went outside and walked right up to, Billy. “I’ll do it,” he said. “Where is the key?”
“Here you go,” he said. “There’s a warehouse just outside of town. Do you know it?”
“Yes, across from the plumber’s shop.”
“That’s right,” the hitman said. Just go to the locker and it’s all yours.”
I looked up at my uncle and said, “So, what was in the locker?”
“It was filled with money,” my uncle said. “Don’t tell anyone,” and held out his hand, the one missing the middle finger. “This is our secret, okay.”
“Our, secret,” okay!” I said, and we shook on it.”
“About ten years later when the I was nineteen, and had a craving for a candy bar, stopped at a local store, and thought, Since I was low on gas might as well fill up. He pulled up to the pump, and on the other side filling up was a guy in a Porsche.
“You live around here?” he asked.
“Yeah, I do.”
“This is a nice place,” he said, “a nice place to disappear.”
“Where are you from?”
“All over, just passing through,” he said. “I’m heading to quarry.”
“Do—a little target practice.”
“Yeah, you could say that, he said. “I’m planning to do a little hunting around here.”
“What’re you hunting for?”
“Whatever’s in season.”
“Well, nice talking to you,” the boy said. As he walked into the store to pay for the gas and get a candy bar, he looked at the license plate of the Porsche, and stopped, stunned for a moment—it read, Priest.
BEDTIME STORIES AND DREAMS
I often dream, some I usually remember, and there are dreams I don’t recall completely. I call this one ‘GOBBLE-GOBBLE’.
Thanksgiving is an autumn holiday in the United States. Abraham Lincoln made it official, and it carries some controversial baggage that I won’t get into now. Almost everyone enjoys celebrating every November, with pumpkin pie, cranberries, corn, mashed potatoes with gravy, and of course turkey. It’s even called, Turkey Day by some. The custom has been celebrated every year since then. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln made it the official United States of America national day of harvest, to be celebrated every fourth Thursday of November.
We all think it’s a celebration started by the settlers of Jamestown who were called the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts, but they were actually Puritans who feasted with the Native Americans to celebrate the harvest. Some Native Americans consider it a holiday of mourning, and how a gift of food was repaid by stealing land. There is an account of settlers who found corn in the sand, which turned out to be buried in Indian graves, and took it because they needed food. So, the Native Americans did not trust the settlers, and the settlers didn’t trust the Natives. Now all the Native Americans have casinos on the reservation, a sign of progress, I guess.
As it turns out many cultures celebrate some sort of thanksgiving, the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Hebrews, the Egyptians, and the Canadians. On the American National Holiday, the President gives a speech, the Detroit Lions play football, and Thanksgiving, would not be Thanksgiving without a turkey. People eat more turkey on Thanksgiving Day than any other time of the year. Where do the turkeys come from? Mostly from the supermarket, but there are a few people who live in the country, or on farms where there is enough space to raise a few wild animals for food.
Going to the supermarket for turkey is the easy way: there’s no butchering, no cleaning, just cooking. When we see the turkey in the freezer, we don’t think of it as ever being alive at least not in a sense that we can relate. But, if the turkey is raised from a fledgling, we might have a connection to it because we watch it grow and mature into a full-grown bird.
Usually, people think of dogs or cats as the easiest to care for, or becoming somewhat of a friend, but there’s one more animal, the turkey. Millions are eaten on Thanksgiving in the U.S., but what if a boy raised a turkey from birth? Could he eat the turkey on Thanksgiving Day?
This story is about a boy who raises a turkey and tries to save it from a Thanksgiving death. His name is Tommy Johnson. He lives on a small farm in the countryside near a fairly large city. His father, Robert Johnson, owns a small iron works company. He designs and welds stair and porch railings, trailers, ramps, or anything his customers want; all from iron. His specialty, axes, which are used to do a turkey in on Thanksgiving. Tommy’s dad started selling the, Thanksgiving Day embossed Ax.
Dad put his hand up to the front of his neck, drew his index finger across while holding out his tongue for maximum effect, showing it was curtains for the turkey, then continued the story.
The Johnsons lived just outside the city on a small farm where he did the metal business, raised some cattle, a few horses, some dogs, numerous cats, chickens, a goat, and turkeys. These turkeys were not the kind found in stores. They were wild turkeys that Mr. Johnson let run on his farm. Every November he would hunt for the biggest turkey before Thanksgiving. He also let others hunt for turkeys on his farm for a small fee. Everyone who lived in the area called his place the Turkey Ranch.
A certain particular baby turkey wandered in the yard one day and was found by Tommy, Mr. Johnson’s son, who fell in love with it immediately, and started to care for it. The little turkey would follow Tommy around the yard eating the corn he’d drop on the ground. Tommy loved that turkey and gave it a name. He called it, Gary.
Sometimes Tommy and Gary went for walks in the woods. Gary waited with Tommy in the morning when he left for school. They’d walk down the driveway to the mailbox together and wait for the bus. When the bus would arrive, all of the kids would look out of the windows of the bus. Some would wave at Gary, shouting his name, Gary, Gary, Gary. Tommy would wave goodbye as the bus pulled away and drove down the highway to town. After school it would be the same ritual, as Gary waited by the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Tommy got off the bus, and they’d walked back home together, Tommy telling Gary about his day at school, and Gary gobbling as they walked side by side.
Gary started getting bigger and bigger as time passed. He was a plump turkey because Tommy always had some corn in his pocket for him to eat. Soon Tommy’s father remarked on Gary’s size, saying things like, “Son, that turkey looks big enough to feed two families on Thanksgiving. We’ll have to invite some friends over this November.” Tommy would hesitate for a moment, then agree with his father. “You’re right, Dad. He’s a big bird. I can’t wait until this Thanksgiving,” he’d say, and cringe.
Gary got larger as the months flew by; he was a trophy bird for certain which was death sentence for sure. One day at dinner Mr. Johnson mentioned that there was a prize for the biggest turkey at a local fall festival and thought Gary would be perfect because of his size. It was a, guess the weight of the turkey; win the turkey thanksgiving contest. This meant Tommy would have to give Gary to the person who guessed closest to his weight without going over.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Dad,” Tommy said as he choked up. “Gary’s a great guard. You’ve seen how he roams the yard up and down the driveway, haven’t you? I trained him myself. Gary knows every square inch of the place. He’s always watching, and when there’s something unusual, or he hears a sound, he gobbles. You’ve heard him, right Dad?”
Mr. Johnson listened to his son praise the turkey. Tommy was proud of Gary and thought it was great that he was so smart. “Tommy, I understand your attachment to Gary, but you shouldn’t take this so seriously, after all, he’s just a turkey, no different from any other turkeys we have on the farm.”
“He’s much more than just a regular turkey, dad. He’s part of the family now. I walk to the school bus with him every day. He’s my best friend. All of the kids at school love him, too. They always wave to him from the bus. We’ve got to keep him; he’s special.”
Mr. Johnson listened as Tommy tried to adamantly persuade his dad that Gary was part of the family. Although he wanted to please his son, Mr. Johnson felt Tommy was behaving oddly, always talking about the turkey, and spending too much time with it. He decided that one way to get Tommy out of this strong affinity with Gary was to have Tommy help butcher the thanksgiving turkey. Tommy had seen his father butcher and clean turkeys, but never helped. Mr. Johnson thought this was the opportune time for Tommy to get his hands dirty, so to speak. He sat down with him one afternoon to tell him what he had in mind.
“Son, I want to talk to you, okay?”
“Okay, dad,” Tommy said.
“Let’s sit over here, son.” Mr. Johnson pointed at a stack of straw bales piled up in front of the barn. They sat and looked at each other for a moment.
Tommy smiled at his dad. “Well, dad, what’s up?”
“Tommy, I want to talk to you about Gary.”
“Gary is a turkey, Tommy.”
“I know, dad,” he said. “I’m not a moron.”
“Well, son, you know that you can’t keep him forever. Turkeys don’t live so long. I mean, well, you know what I mean. People usually don’t get so attached to a turkey.”
“Why not? Turkeys make great friends.”
“Now, that’s what I mean, Tommy. You talk about that turkey like he’s your friend. He’s a turkey,” Mr. Johnson said, “a plain old turkey.”
“He’s more than a turkey, dad. He’s special.”
“You’re just making this harder, son. You know what we’ve got to do, don’t you?”
“Sell Gary?” Tommy said.
“Yeah, we could sell Gary, but also well, you know I think it’s time you started helping me get the Thanksgiving turkey ready. What do you say, Tommy! Help dad?”
Tommy looked at his dad. Mr. Johnson looked at his son, then they gave each other big hug. “I love you, dad, and I’ll do whatever you want.”
“Okay, Tommy, tomorrow’s the big day. We’ll round up Gary and get him ready for Thanksgiving.” Mr. Johnson got up and walked to the house.
Tommy sat on the bale of straw stunned. “Gary, Gary, Gary, what have I done?” he said, his hands over his face, tears streaming down.
Mr. Johnson told his wife and Tommy’s brother that they were going to butcher Gary.
“He said it was all right?” Tommy’s mother asked.
“No problem. Tommy said he wants to help.”
“I can’t believe he’s going to do it. He loves that turkey,” Tommy’s brother said.
“Well, we’ll see tomorrow morning after breakfast,” Tommy’s mother said.
That night Tommy lay awake all-night thinking about Gary’s demise. “I can’t do it, there’s no way, Gary’s my friend—I can’t kill my friend,” he whispered to himself, then fell asleep.
The next day was a beautiful autumn morning. The sun shone through Tommy’s window across his bed, and onto his face. Birds sang a pentatonic air that rang through the barnyard as Tommy rolled and stretched after his dad called him to down for breakfast. Tommy walked to the second-floor bedroom window, his eyes scanning the yard for Gary, but couldn’t spot him. “He must be in back of the barn,” Gary mumbled.
He threw on his clothes and made his way down to the kitchen, stopping at the foot of the stairs to tie his shoes. “Something smells good,” he remarked.
“If you want anything to eat, you better hurry,” his brother said as he walked out into the yard.
“Morning, mom,” Tommy said.
“Hungry, Tommy?” his mother asked.
“Yes, I am. What’s on the stove today?”
“Fried eggs or pancakes. You can have your pick.”
“Okay, I’ll have pancakes. Where’s dad?”
“He’s out in the yard getting ready.”
“Getting ready for what?” Tommy asked.
“Don’t you remember? You talked about it with him last night.”
“Oh, about the turkey.”
“You’re taking it quite calmly. We thought you’d raise a fuss and get upset.”
“He’s just a turkey, mom,” Tommy said with a groan. “Just a turkey,” he said again in a dismal way like the world would end soon.
“Is there something you want to tell me, Tommy?” his mother asked.
“No, I’d better get going. Dad’s waiting on me,” he said and walked out into the yard mumbling under his breath, “I can do this, I can do this.” Tommy saw his father working on a tractor in front of the barn. “Morning, dad.”
“Hey, Tommy. I’m almost done here, then we’ll get to the turkey.”
“Okay, dad,” Tommy said.
Tommy fought to hold back his emotions. He wanted to burst out and scream, NO, NO, NO, WE CAN’T DO IT, WE CAN’T DO IT, but he waited for his father, emotionless and calm.
“Follow me, Tommy,” Mr. Johnson said. “Let me show you something.”
They walked around to the back of the barn where Tommy saw a burlap bag tied to a post. The bag was moving around so much it stopped him in his tracks, because he knew what was in the bag. He looked at his dad. “Are you sure this is what we should do?” asked Tommy.
“I’m afraid so, son. It’s what’s best. Here, Tommy,” he said and handed him the hatchet he’d made just for Tommy; it was heavy in Tommy’s hands. They watched the bag flopped around more and more as they got closer until it was almost air-born.
“Okay, Tommy, I’ll untie the bag. Hold the hatchet, high.” Tommy looked at the hatchet with wide eyes. “I’m going to open the bag, let the turkey’s head out, and pull the rope tight around it, then I’ll put its neck on the block. You swing the hatchet, okay?”
“I don’t know, dad,” Tommy mumbled, his eyes watery.
“Come on son, it’ll be over in no time. Just swing the hatchet. Keep your eyes open so you don’t chop off my hand. Here we go.”
Mr. Johnson grabbed the bag. Gary was big and strong, so it took all of Mr. Johnson’s strength to hold the bag, and the turkey’s head on the block.
“I’m going to open the bag and let his head out. Wait—now get ready, Tommy.”
Tommy held the axe with both hands, moving it up and down practicing a chopping swing. “He’s making so much noise dad. He’s suffering,” Tommy said as he moved from behind, and around his dad to get into position next to the chopping block. He held the axe high in the air. “I think I’m ready, dad,” Tommy’s voice squeaked, and the axe wobbled.
“Okay, Tommy. NOW! SWING THE AXE!” Gary and the burlap bag moved all over. It moved up and down as Mr. Johnson gripped it. Dust and feathers floated in the air and flew everywhere. “SWING TOMMY—NOW,” Mr. Johnson yelled again.
Tommy raised the axe high over his head. Down it came as the bag kept moving. Mr. Johnson looked at his son, his hands were empty. They both looked toward the barn where the axe had landed—stuck in the side of the barn. “Tommy!” Mr. Johnson said, “Son!” Tommy stood there silent; his eyes glazed over. “Tommy, are you, all right? Son? Are you all right?” his father asked again.
Nothing, not a peep, then Tommy turned and bolted. He ran through the yard, jumped over the small corral and across a pasture, but he turned one last time when he heard his name. Mr. Johnson shouted again, “Tommy, come back,” before he disappeared into the layers of trees.
Mr. Johnson went back to the house. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that kid.”
“Where is he?” asked Mrs. Johnson.
“He ran into the woods. I don’t know, I guess he freaked out when he saw Gary flopping around.”
“Are you going to look for him?” Mrs. Johnson asked.
“Yeah, I’ll give him a little time alone first. He’ll most likely come back on his own. Let’s just wait a spell.”
They waited and waited, but no Tommy. “It’s getting dark outside. We can’t let him sleep in the woods. We’ve got to look for him,” Tommy’s mother pleaded.
“In the dark? What are we supposed to do in the dark? I’ll bet he’s in the barn. I’ll go have a look.” Mr. Johnson stepped out of the house. That kid, that foolish kid, he thought. What’s wrong him? Why did he run? Where is he? That stupid kid—I love that kid. Mr. Johnson wiped the tears that rolled down his cheeks. He held the light in the barn shining it all around while calling Tommy’s name. “Tommy, son, Tommy, please,” but there was no answer. There was no Tommy.
No one slept that night. The next morning, they searched all around the barn-yard, in all of the buildings, and in the woods near the house.
“I think we should get some help,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Let’s call some of the neighbors and ask if they’ve seen or heard anything,” Tommy’s brother said.
“Great idea. I’ll go call right now,” Mrs. Johnson said.
“Let’s jump into the pickup and drive through the valley. We might see him along the road,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson and Tommy’s brother got into the pickup. “Do you think he’ll come back, dad?”
“Don’t even think that way. He’ll be back. I know he’ll be back.” Tommy’s dad and brother drove slowly up and down the roads, stopping when they saw something moving in the woods. They drove all day without any luck. They thought the worst, but then Mr. Johnson said, “He’s coming back. I know he’s coming back.” He kept repeating the same mantra, over and over, because he couldn’t give up on his son.
It was the second day now without any sign of Tommy, so the Johnsons called the police.
“Hello, police station, Can I help you?”
“Yes, I hope you can. I’d like to report my son, missing.”
“How long has he been missing?”
“For two days now. We’re worried because he’s never been gone so long, and never run away before.”
“Why do you say? Never run away before. Was your son talking about running away?”
“No, no, he was helping me butcher the Thanksgiving turkey, got afraid and ran into the woods near our place.”
“Okay, let me get this straight. Your son ran away because you were butchering a turkey for Thanksgiving.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mr. Johnson said.
“And he’s been gone for two days now.”
“Yes, that’s right, two days. We’ve checked everywhere, in the barn, and other places he could hide, called our neighbors and told them to be on the look out, but haven’t heard anything. We’re worried something may have happened to him. Please help us,” Mr. Johnson’s voice cracked.
“Okay, Mr. Johnson, here’s what we do first. I’ll come out, ask you a few more questions for my report, then we’ll get as many people together as we can, and scout the woods around your place. I’ll get a helicopter from the state police to fly over the area. We’ll get a search going asap. There’s a better chance of finding him if we cover the air and ground. I’ll head over to your place right away. See you in a bit. Bye.”
“The police are coming,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Thank goodness,” Mrs. Johnson sighed, embraced her husband, then rested her head on his shoulder.
Mr. Johnson caressed his wife’s head. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Don’t worry, he’ll come back. He’ll come back.”
Mr. Johnson went out in the yard and checked all of the buildings around the yard one more time. “TOMMY, Tommy, TOMMY, where are you?” He called and called, but there was no answer.
Neighbors rang to say they could help with the search, then they met at the Johnson place the next day. Car after car pulled into the yard. Soon there was no room to park.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find him,” one neighbor said.
“I know we will. It’s just the waiting that drives me crazy,” Mr. Johnson said.
The sheriff pulled into the driveway, followed by five other patrol cars. “Mr. Johnson, I’m Sheriff Griffin.” He shook Mr. Johnson’s hand as he introduced himself.
“Really appreciate you coming to help. We’re going crazy,” Mr. Johnson said, and gripped the sheriff’s hand.
“Okay, when did you last see him?” the sheriff asked.
“It was Wednesday morning about nine.”
“How old is your son?”
“Does he know the area well?”
“Oh, yes, he grew up here, and we’ve hunted the woods all around here. He knows the area.”
“Do you have a picture of him?”
“Sure, I’ll get one from the house.” Mr. Johnson went into the house and returned a few minutes later with a picture of Tommy. “Here’s the picture, sheriff.”
The sheriff looked at the picture and said, “Is this the turkey next to him?”
“What?” Mr. Johnson asked.
“You know, the turkey he was supposed to butcher.”
“Yes,” Mr. Johnson said. “That’s Gary.”
“He sure is a big one,” the sheriff said. “Okay, let’s pass this picture around. We’ll split up into groups and start searching the area nearby, then move out to the woods.” Mr. Johnson heard everyone commented on how big Gary was as the picture was passed around.
“I’ve got some aerial maps of the surrounding area that will help keep track of our search. Does anyone have any questions?” the sheriff said.
A hand went up from the group of searchers, “How long are we going to stay out today?”
“Every group will have a police officer and radio. If there are extra radios, we’ll pass them pass out. And, we’ll stay out as long as it’s light. Any more questions?” There were no questions, so the sheriff said, “It looks like we have enough people for about ten groups. I’ll stay here. This will be our rendezvous point. Just follow police officers and listen to what they say. Okay, let’s get going.”
We would lie quietly listening to dad telling the story, sometimes ask a question, but if we asked too many questions he would forget where he left off, and it would take a few minutes for him to get back into it. Sometimes he would stop and ask us questions, like, “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why didn’t someone do something?” Mostly we just kept quiet waiting for the big kicker at the end. Dad always had a big or unusual ending to a story. He would continue telling a story making up things until he thought of it, then wind down and hit us with the big smackaroo ending. If a story stretched on, we knew he hadn’t come up with the ending.
The search was launched. Mr. Johnson and his neighbors all started looking for Tommy. They searched all day until nightfall without any luck. “Okay. We’ll call it a night and meet here tomorrow morning at dawn,” the sheriff said. “We’re going to widen our search area. There’ll be a lot of walking, so be ready for a hard day. Okay, until tomorrow. Oh, just a moment, Mr. Johnson wants to say a few words to you.”
Mr. Johnson turned to the crowd of neighbors, “You all have been so great today. You’re truly our friends and we can never hope to repay your kindness.” His voice cracked and tears welled up in his eyes. He tried to hold them back, but couldn’t and fell down to his knees and cried, “TOMMY, where are you?” then covered his face with his hands and stayed there on the ground while everyone walked by patting him on the back.
Someone in the crowd of neighbors said, “We’re going to find him, Mr. Johnson, don’t you worry.”
“We’ll find him,” another person said.
Finally, he got up and saw his wife standing in front of the house. She had tears in her eyes too. They turned and walked into the house together.
Up came the sun the next day as cars pulled into the Johnson’s yard again. Everyone was ready for another day of searching, they all looked and sounded determined to find Tommy. “He’s out there. Let’s go find him.” A voice from the crowd barked.
“We won’t give up until we do,” another neighbor said.
Off they went into their groups, determined not to let the Johnsons down, leaving the Johnson’s yard silent except for the sheriff’s patrol car radio. He was monitoring all the chatter on the radio. Then the sheriff heard this conversation on the police radio.
“How many animals got away?”
What were the two police officers from the next county talking about, the sheriff thought? He listened closely.
“We’re not sure. One lion, some monkeys, don’t know what other animals got away.”
“A lion?” the voice said in a surprised tone.
“Yeah, a lion,” another voice said.
“Have you any idea where the lion is now?”
“No, not sure, but it’s somewhere in the woods near town. That’s where the circus was setting up. The trainers have been out looking for two days now without any luck.”
“Have you heard anything about that kid who’s missing?”
“Yeah, I heard about it. They’re looking for him today in the same area.”
“Hope that lion’s not too hungry.”
As we listened to dad tell the story we held our breath when dad said, the lion was lost in the same area as Tommy. We thought, poor Tommy, as he continued the story.
The sheriff sat in his patrol car stunned with disbelief. “A lion?” he muttered, “A lion in the same woods?”
The search teams, he thought. They’ve got to know about the lion. He grabbed his radio. “Team one, this is Sheriff Griffin. I’ve got some news.”
“Team one here. What’s up?”
“You’re not going to believe this, but some animals escaped from a circus.”
“What kind of animals?”
“Some monkeys, but they’re not the problem. The problem is the lion.”
“The what!” the search team leader said.
“You heard right,” the sheriff said, “a lion. It might be in this area, so keep your eyes open. I want to keep a positive attitude, but if that lion was hungry and it spotted Tommy,” the sheriff sighed, “I don’t know—we’ve got to let everyone know about it, so spread the word. I’ll let the others know, too.”
“Will do,” was the reply. “Team one out.”
“The word got around about the lion and finally to the Johnson family, but they stayed upbeat and positive. Tommy was nowhere in sight, and neither was the lion.
The search continued for a week, then news came that the lion was spotted and captured about a mile from the Johnson farm. It didn’t look good for Tommy. The sheriff called off the search. The news media reported that Tommy Johnson was eaten by a lion when he ran away from home because his father wanted him to butcher a turkey for Thanksgiving. It just got worse; soon the Johnsons weren’t able to go into town with all of the media people following them, trying to get a story about poor turkey Tommy. That’s what a headline in the paper said: POOR TURKEY TOMMY — LION’S LUNCH. The Johnsons were heartbroken.
Mr. Johnson felt worst of all. He had started this whole thing by asking Tommy to help butcher a turkey. Soon it came out about how Gary was Tommy’s pet turkey, and they were best friends. Tommy’s classmates gave interviews on the news and told about how Gary followed Tommy everywhere.
Dad saw we were in tears, so he had to end the story. We watched him intently while we cried. Finally, he said.
A tall man got out of the car and stood looking at the Johnson’s house. He was wearing a Fedora and a brown leather jacket.
“Dad, someone just pulled into the driveway.”
“More reporters, I bet,” said Mr. Johnson.
“I don’t think so; he’s just standing next to his car, and doesn’t look like a reporter to me, dad. There’s a sign on the door of the car. I think it says, BIG TOP CIRCUS.”
“Let me see,” Mr. Johnson looked out the window. “He’s just standing there, and it looks like there’s someone sitting in the front seat of the car. I can’t make out who it is.”
Mrs. Johnson walked out of the house without taking her eyes off the car. She walked closer and closer, then everyone else came running out of the house. The man introduced himself, “Hello, I’m Bob Smith from the Big Top Circus. I saw the story about your son, Tommy, on TV.” He gestured at his car and said. “The boy wandered into one of our tents and we’ve been trying to find out who he belongs to. We almost left town with him. He’s a quiet kid, and a bit different. I thought about putting him in one of our circus acts. Well, he’s all yours.”
The car door opened, and Tommy stepped out. The Johnsons wanted to rush over and give him a big hug, but they walked slowly, then stopped. Tommy stopped. They looked at each other and smiled.
“Tommy—son,” Mr. Johnson cried. “You’re back!”
Tommy stared back at Mr. Johnson and said, “GOBBLE, Gobble, GOBBLE, Gobble, GOBBLE, Gobble, GOBBLE, Gobble, GOBBLE, Gobble”
“What’s wrong with Tommy?” Mrs. Johnson asked.
“He thinks he’s a turkey,” Tommy’s brother said.
They watched Tommy walk around the yard walking and acting like a turkey and gobbling. For the rest of his life he thought that he was a turkey. Tommy and Gary lived happily ever after as best friends.
We were happy the story ended with Tommy safe but turning him into a turkey was kind of strange.