(A Collection of four linking stories)
The Old Man
(Part of the End) And so Shannon O’Day knew that very first morning of October, 1954 knew that Kent Peterson would be where he always was, in the wee hours of the morning, on that porch of his waiting for him to walk through the front gate to paint, and Shannon could no longer withstand, the moment and had simply come to that point that no longer could both of them, breathe the same air in the same farmyard, in the same county, and same state, on the same day, and what he said pushed him over the forbidden line, the red line. And so lacking patience, and perseverance, to subdue his pride, to withstand his nagging, his persistence, he fell back on that right to defend it, the way he did in the war, the Great War, the one he earned a medal for killing his enemy, with his rifle, bayoneted, like Kent Peterson was to him now—the enemy. But the war was of course over—so he had claimed.
It began in the fall of 1953, or a year prior. Oh maybe not, perhaps it started in the summer of 1951, or even sooner, but it shaped itself into a hullabaloo between the two, when he was ordered to paint his house and barn, paint for fifteen days. It all stemmed from arrogance, intolerance and pride, and then destruction. It all started when they started to breathe the same Midwestern air, day after day after day, because he, Shannon O’Day, was not a contentious man, not like Kent, but he was defending his wimple rights, in the only way he knew how. So perhaps Kent made his own fate, destiny when he finally impinged on Shannon’s, if indeed he, or we can say that is what he did, provoking Shannon. This was all after Shannon’s wife left him, and Shannon had rented out a farm next to Kent Peterson, who was rich enough to have several Negro workers on his 400- acres of land. The problem was Gus, his brother was gone out of town, not around to help him out of this jam, he was down visiting Mabel’s parents in Fayetteville, North Carolina celebrating for a month their anniversary, their 35th anniversary.
(The Beginning) It was Shannon’s one and only horse. Not having much money, and trying to do what his brother did, that being: create a self-sufficient farm, an independent one, asking no favours of any man, paying his own way. He—the horse (called: Dan), had strayed off in fall, into the skeleton cornfields next to his farm, and there he was over by Kent Peterson’s place, and Shannon couldn’t feed him so he left him there; and lived the whole winter without him, let Old Man Peterson feed him, knowing he was feeding him. So Peterson fed the horse, knowing it was Shannon’s, the rest of fall, and through the winter—a long hard cold winter at that, and when spring came, Shannon went to get his barren horse, worthless horse, his twenty-dollar horse, but he was fat and healthy now.
(The Deal) According to Mr. Kent Peterson’s calculations, and the sheriff from Dakota Country, Sheriff Terry Fauna, who had asked a few other farmers what the horse was worth now, and they all agreed it was valued at $140-dollars, not the $20-dollars Shannon had paid, now that it was fed and exercised, and groomed. Thus, this was the price tag for Shannon to acquire his horse back, according to law.
Yes indeed, all this trouble over a twenty-dollar horse, that now would cost him $140-dollars because he wanted to fool or should I say trick, Mr. Peterson into feeding him, for a short fall—which ended up being—that and a long winter to boot.
“All right!” Shannon had said to Kent Peterson, to the sheriff, “I’ll work the fifteen days to get my horse back, peacefully, if that’s what all you folks want, and if that is what it takes, I guess I’ll have to do it, I went through the Great War, I can do this standing on my hands, I can withstand you all, likewise.”
And he, Shannon felt forlorn and defenceless he wished his brother Gus was back from down south, he could straighten things out, but he wasn’t.
‘If Gus was back,’ he thought, ‘he would have settled this issue with the horse, he knows the sheriff and Mr. Peterson,’ but he was too impatient. And so he agreed to work for Mr. Peterson the fifteen days, to get his horse back, lest he lose both the goat and the rope.
Shannon worked for Kent, on his farm, painted his house a two-story frame building, then his barn, all 440-square feet of it (and in-between painting he fed the pigs, milked the cows, brought the hay down from the hayloft: day, after day, after day. He had fifteen days to work off (nine days being spent on the house), and as he shifted from the house to the barn working from sunup to sundown, he watched the young men and girls from the city driving by drinking in their cars, and he’d stop painting the barn just to watch them: the couples, old people, children, dogs and cats they had inside their cars. The barn faced the highway, the cars all moving in two directions. He could even hear their radios on, playing music—loud music inside those passing cars. He followed each car with his eyes, with his night lantern to break the boredom of painting.
(The Barn) On the tenth day, he was still working on the barn, the day shifting to night, to dusk, he could hear the freight trains pass, which did almost at anytime throughout the evening, let alone the other passenger trains. So just by spending the evenings in this small barn, this barn of 440-square feet with only a little movement, he would hear maybe three or more trains before he’d quit work.
When his days and evenings were finished he’d walk past the old man, Kent on his way home, a two mile walk to his farm, as the old man sat in his dim rocking chair on his porch in the cool of the dark evening, an electric light on by his screened-in-door behind him to his right side, that led into the kitchen, where the bugs seemed to gather peacefully, with no restraints, worries or insecticide: no need to escape the death hand of fate, and Kent often wanting to talk to Shannon, for whatever reasons, but he never stopped long enough for the old man to get a syllable out, just kept right on walking, just like those bugs behind him, so he treated the old man, as if he wasn’t even there.
(Trains) By the time he got back to his farm, he grabbed a jug of whiskey out from under his kitchen cabinet, walked a mile to the train tracks, sat on the edge of an embankment, waited and watched for the trains to come and go, those coming from Chicago, to St. Paul, a few stopping in Stillwater Township first, about twelve miles away. The train itself, he liked to hear the four whistle blasts for a crossing, the headlights, the nosy engine, see the shadows of the engineer, and conductor, and fireman, and watch the slowing down of the coaches, the people in the late dining room car. The black waiters going back and forth with food for the rich: then the back lights of the train were gone as fast as they had appeared in a clap of an eye.
Between the long days of working for Peterson, and his hours of drinking after twilight, he became a fleshless, sleepless, foodless near mindless, empty man, a shell of a man, all over that twenty-dollar horse, that now was worth seven times that amount because he wanted to fool Mr. Peterson, in feeding him, for a short fall and long winter, because he couldn’t afford to do it. But Mr. Peterson, the old man, had fooled him, and fed him knowing quite well if he did, he’d get fifteen days of work out of Shannon.
(Frozen Anger) It was as if Shannon wanted to get mad, or madder each day he worked, and anger grew as often anger does when there is no release, when one doesn’t talk about the hurt under the anger, but he didn’t want to cause trouble, he knew he owed Mr. Peterson, and was determined to pay him back, even if he had to drain every ounce of blood out of himself. And he knew inside of his cup of anger, if it overflowed its rim, Kent’s life was at risk, and thus, it mustn’t reach that stage.
When he woke up, it was tomorrow morning, day fifteen.
(Rest of the Ending) It was 5:00 a.m., when Shannon got down to Kent Peterson’s farm a two mile hike from his, he was disturbed, as old man Peterson did notice, and Shannon being indifferent, he didn’t much care, said quietly, eating a biscuit, eating it steadily, standing on his porch, Shannon didn’t even notice him on his porch as he walked by, until he said,
“Looks like you had a hard night drinking,” never thinking he didn’t have time to plough and hoe, and get his ground ready for planting, on his farm, that perhaps that was on his mind as well, nor did he have a dinner, or breakfast, and his usual coffee, as the old man usually had simply slept away his afternoons.
(Shannon had taken from his army gear, the dull and rusty bayonet the one he had used in the army in the Great War, to scrape the old paint off the last wall of the barn and finished this last and fifteenth day of his penance, and bring home his horse; the bayonet almost as long as his forearm.)
“Now what?” asked Shannon, to the old man?
“You, you look like a zombie,” remarked the old man.
“I’m burnt out old man, shut you mouth and let me work my last day out.”
He then went over to the hedgerows and patches of woods to take a leak— concealed and undetected. But the old man followed him, was right behind him,
“You owe me one more day’s work Shannon, for feeding that horse of yours for the last fifteen-days,” still chewing on that biscuit.
Inflexible, was the old man, silent was Shannon, as he did his duty, and he thought: ‘Maybe if he worked today, and tomorrow that tomorrow wouldn’t be the last day either. Maybe there would never be a last day, period!’
He put his hand under his coat, his fingers around the handle of the bayonet, pulled it out slowly, his fingers already tightening and taking up the slack around the handle, ‘I’ll never satisfy him,’ he told himself, whispered out loud a second time, without thinking, and between the scream and the bayonet and its impact of the thrust for him to say to Kent, and for Kent to have reasoned with it: ‘I’m not killing you because of the fifteen days of work, that’s okay, I done reasoned that out, and not because you’re rich and have no limits, and sleep all afternoon in that hammock of yours, but because of that one additional day you added on.”
The case of Shannon O’Day never did reach the courts, it was said, (some years after the incident of Mr. Kent Peterson) someone paid the judge to dismiss it, and a check in the mail came from down south, for $10,000-dollars, delivered personally to Judge Finley. And an eye witness showed up at the district attorney’s office, said, there was another man hiding in the woods, which had it in for old man Peterson, an old worker, and grabbed Shannon’s bayonet, and did him in.
When Shannon was asked if he killed Peterson at the inquest, or not, he answered, “I rightly don’t know, I hadn’t had any sleep for days, or food, and when I woke up, I had a nightmare that I did, and the police was hauling me down to jail.”
Then the judge said, “We don’t put people in penitentiaries for nightmares in this country of ours; inefficient evidence, case dismissed!”
Written 5-25 and 26, of May, 2009/ No: 406 xx
A Chapter story out of the MS “Not One Hooting Owl Left”
(Shannon O’Day, 1956-57)
When Gus O’Day and his wife had returned home, from Fayetteville, North Carolina, he heard about Shannon’s run in with the law, not to mention his reckless try at farming had ended, but “Thank God for that,” he told his friend Ronald Short, the county attorney.
Why in fact, Mr. Short was initially confused on the Kent Peterson murder he didn’t let it out, but the sheriff of Dakota Country, Sheriff Terry Fauna, never pursued the murderer, for his known inquisitive nature, he simply just let it go, again both Gus and Short were puzzled. It appeared it never needed the law to close out the case; it just did on its own, as if someone pulled the blinds down. Now instead of Shannon hanging out with Gus, because of his browbeating over wanting to know the details of the killing, what wasn’t brought out in court, wanting to know, what he didn’t know, or pretended he didn’t know, but he should have known, if indeed he did kill Kent, and he did of course kill Kent, but hanging out with Gus might bring things to light, and Shannon was alright with the results of the Court, so he started hanging out at Dickey’s Diner, he ate there before, he just didn’t hang out there, and now he was hanging out there, got to know Old Josh the cook quite well, and a few waitresses, and some young guy blind who played Ricky Nelson songs, and some little black lad who came in and tap-danced, called Zam Zam.
It was a Friday night, Shannon, he had left the Diner, leaned half one side of his body from head to toe, against the lamppost looking at the empty lots about, you would have thought he could of held his staring indefinitely. Then he stumbled on back to his apartment on Wabasha Street, by the World Theater, where he could do no harm to his-self or anyone else—to include innocent bystanders or perhaps all three.
This is when he changed course in his life, which was simply unavoidable—to be—a hazard if he hadn’t. He drank in Gus’ neighbor’s cornfields now, Mr. Orville Stanley (who had retired from the railroad, and had this hobby farm with his wife) Alice Stanley, their daughter, Nadine, and her daughter, Dana.
He knew them as well as anyone else knew them. So of 1956, he asks them without any troublesome interruption, if they wouldn’t mind him drinking among their corn stocks. And as time passed that summer, he’d drop a pint of moonshine whiskey into the old man’s mailbox and when they met and talked, he’d drop a pint into his hind pockets.
So now no one need bother to question Shannon over the murder and he didn’t get that browbeating from his brother, and the way he figured it: out of sight out of mind, or perhaps, what you don’t know, can’t hurt you, or possible, the concept of blood-kin being thicker than water, would not be tested under fire, as Mark Twain would have put it. And that was that, and that was all right with Shannon O’Day.
But it wasn’t the way Gus and that Country Attorney saw things, Mr. Ronald Short; and Gus was not to be as persistent as Mr. Short would be in the long run.
The next, Saturday, Mr. Short and the Sheriff Fauna, both friends, kind of friends, not bosom-buddies but lightly friends, had eaten at Dickey’s Diner, the sheriff believing, and telling Mr. Short in so many words: simple destiny was taking its expected course, and he shouldn’t get too reckless in taking advantage of destiny and poking his nose into the case anymore than he had already done, that Judge Finley, had made his decision, and he’d not take a likening should he take this to another level, other than curiosity.
Mr. Short knew, Finley had a short temper, and didn’t care to be questioned on his judgments, and in particular this matter of Shannon O’Day; and Finley had told his dear friend, Sheriff Fauna, not to let Short, get one whiff or light flash of the real picture.
Ronald Short did start to meddle into what Judge Finley thought was his business. Short feeling he wasn’t doing Finely no harm in the process but he was telling the Sheriff about his new investigation into the murder, and forgot that the Sheriff was a dear friend of Finley’s, more so than his.
“No,” he said to Fauna, “what baffles me is Henry Sears, the witness, the very one who saw some stranger kill Kent Peterson then runs deep into woods. And then after the court hearing, he up and leaves the state. I think Shannon had some money hidden, and paid Sears to lie?”
Judge Finley said to Sheriff Fauna, that following Monday morning, in the Dakota County Court hallway, “What in creation kind of County Attorney do we have here, a detective? Ask him if he has a license to snoop beyond the courthouse!”
So for that moment his trust and assurance in Ronald Short shined unsteadily, you could say. For that trying moment he told the sheriff, “Mr. Short could be the victim of pure circumstance, compounded…jest like any one else; if that darn boy don’t believe the old picture show, that he might slip in some alley, or be subject to some outrageous misfortune and coincidence that befall Mr. Peterson, and then we all can rest in peace. Matter-of-fact, if he says anything more about being a detective, burn his britches, and if that don’t work, well, the alley will do.”
Short still never had one second’s doubt that it had been Shannon who paid someone to lie for him, with the clear and simple color of money. But Shannon never had a nickel to his name at this time.
So all Ronald Short needed to do was find out where the money came from, or where the witness was, or work with Gus on Shannon’s guilt, and consciousness, realization to the killing. Anyone, either one would work. And this is exactly what he was determined to do, to pursue, and if need be, persuade, and he was not discreet, having the sheriff provide spies for him, thinking the sheriff was one of his respectable spies himself, with pride in his profession to catch the real killer, instead of chasing shadows, since any little child who could read the court files would have said, ‘hogwash’ to them, and would have known something was fixed.
In plain sight of half the city of St. Paul, evidently going home from the late picture show, nobody could locate Judge Finley to tell him about it. Anyhow, Ronald Short, had found somebody, someone he felt he could squeeze information out of, who called him, and said they had information he was seeking, and Short met this man, in an alley by the Diner, but there was someone behind hidden doors.
He never had anymore sense then to believe the sheriff was on his side, and he could tangle with the old Judge, and walk away as if nothing happened. Not to mention to try and question the witness, and assure him of no ill feelings, and he’d keep it a secret of his identity, but secrets are not secrets when two people know them, they are agreements.
Inside the Baptist church that Sunday morning, Short’s wife had the funeral, and of course Judge Finley and Sheriff Fauna were present, but not Shannon O’Day, nor his brother. They both even brought roses for his wife to lie at the coffin.
That was a lot of money, $10,000-dollars back in 1956. It could have paid for two small houses on the North End of St. Paul, matter of fact it did buy one, for the judge. And as far as the judge and the sheriff were concerned, the investigation was closed out. Forevermore; off the register.
Written 5-27-2009 xx No: 407
The Judge’s Visit
‘Closed Out’ (1957)
Old Judge Finley told Gus in front of Sheriff Fauna, both visiting at Gus farm houe “Ronald Short could have become rich as a top attorney in Dakota County, provided he just didn’t die beforehand,” sitting in his kitchen on a white polished wooden chair one Sunday afternoon in 1957. The Sheriff chewing tobacco and the judge chewing a stick of gum, the judge looking about watching his wife bend over doing her chores.
“Life,” he said, “Your brother could have gotten life in prison” (thinking it was Gus who had sent him the $10,000-dollars from down south when he was visiting his wife’s kin, when it really was Otis Wilder Mather).
The judge and the sheriff were hungry for more money.
“How long has it been?” asked the Judge, “1954, wasn’t it?” said the Judge, as Gus was looking out the kitchen window at his cornfields.
Finley figured Gus was the only O’Day with that amount of money, or perhaps he borrowed it from his kin folks down in North Carolina, his wife’s parents, and he had influence to help Shannon. But as much as Shannon had hoped Gus would save the day, he never did. From 1954 to now, 1957, it’s been three years and we could open the case up again, implied the old the judge.
“Why would you do that?” asked Gus.
“What do you want me to do?” Asked Finley.
Gus didn’t know what to say.
“Okay,” Finley said, “what do I get if I don’t?”
Gus sat there a while leaning against the wall near laughing, thinking it was a joke. Then Finley, he told him: “I’ll take the same as before, $10,000-dollars. If that’s too high, I can take $5000-dollars in cash and the other in trade,” and looked at his wife “on an installment plan.”
The Sheriff sat there in a shadow, and just chewed his tobacco.
“Even if I had it, I’d not pay; the best you can do is getting him sentenced, and get twenty years yourself for blackmailing me.”
“Stop smirking around the bargains,” said the judge, “you’re the one who sent me the money right?”
“If I had ten-grand, I could have hired ten killers to kill you, not pay you nine times more than what it’s worth,” said Gus.
He didn’t even quite chewing his gum, “Then who?” said the judge.
“Well, well,” said Gus, Shannon really did kill that Mr. Peterson after all.”
“Let’s not haggle,” said the sheriff, “I know who it was!”
This time Finley stopped chewing long enough to listen.
“Who?” asked the judge?
“Who’s got $10,000-dollars to spare and give away to save a worthless drunk?” he remarked.
“Who?” repeated the judge?
“That there nigger friend of his, Otis Wilder…forgot his last name, but you kicked him out of the city once, and told him never to come back for burning my cornfields, will he’s too rich to kick out a second time.” And they all started laughing and passing along a jug of homemade wine.
No: 408/ 5-25-2009