by Carl L. Biemiller,
edited by C. J. Carnahan and Eric Biemiller

lightning Copyright © 2005 by Eric C. Biemiller

Please respect the copyrights.
The chapter links are located at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 13

Several times a year, at random, Mastodon Brown, dogcatcher and garbage truck pilot, held a dog auction. It was conducted by Brown rules and regulations. It was held in the parking lot behind the town hall, usually on a Saturday morning, without official recognition, permission or advice. Once, back in 1932, borough officials tried to halt an auction. All suffered severely from the bites of vicious dogs. Although town officials continue to set new records for mistakes and errors of judgment none has since tampered with Mastodon Brown’s dog auction.

Mr. Brown was a feisty little man. He looked much like a cairn terrier. He moved like a perky terrier too, although having served his country in World War One against the Huns, he was hardly a young man. His age was estimated as something between 1,000 and 1,500 but not by anyone connected with civil service or the management of town hall. Only people who liked being bitten by dogs suggested that he retire from his twin jobs. No one knew exactly where he got his name. Mastodon is not something a mother would dream up. It probably had something to do with the era he grew to manhood which was the Ice Age that killed off the dinosaurs.

Mastodon believed in simplicity. His auction was a masterpiece of simpleness. What Mastodon did during his rounds of the town was to keep an eye out in the various neighborhoods for boys and girls who might be worthy of the love of a right thinking dog. He would pick out ten or fifteen of them and invite them to the town hall parking lot on the Saturday of his choosing.

He would then give each of the boys and girls a number. The number matched a number hung around the neck of the dogs he selected for auctioning. He then gave each boy and girl a dollar out of this own pocket. When all fundamentals were handled properly, Mastodon opened the bidding.

He usually opened the back of the cage truck as well so that all dogs, captive, just resting in the truck, or visitors from out of town, could trot around loose to enjoy the smells. The nonparticipating dogs stayed out of the auction circle or were booted out by Mastodon.

Then he would advance to the center of the ring with a numbered dog and yell, “Wot am I bid for this here fella? Do I hear one million dollars, two million? Sold to Jenny Jenks for the sum of one dollar! Jenny, come up here with your number that matches this here dog’s and get your friend.”

Sometimes Jenny Jenks or Pittsford Rochester Junior or Gemima Roosevelt or Reykavik Jones or Matilda Thomas or Jesus Joseph O’Higgins Ortega or Clyde Koot or Horace Morrison or Eddie Clements would advance with a father.

“We don’t need a dog, Mastodon. I can’t feed no damn dog. I can’t feed my own ten kids. No dog,” the father would cry.

“Shut up. This child and this dog have got to have something to respect. It ain’t you. And if I hear of any trouble …”

Mastodon would then make a mysterious motion with his arm and all the attendant dogs would howl and bark and snarl and bay and give out great hunting calls.

The child and the dog would then fall into each other’s arms or paws and be very happy after Mastodon collected back his dollar.

There were always onlookers, as many as fifty or a hundred on sunny Saturdays, and they would cheer and bay along with the dogs. Often they would assist in the bidding.

“Wot am I bid for this here fella …”

“A sackful of fleas …”

“My wife …”

“Four billion dollars …”

“Two mangy politicians…”

“Four beers …”

“The Dean of Women…”

Nonetheless, the right child and the right dog were always joined as planned. It did not matter that the dogs involved were not pedigreed. Neither were the children.

Woodie Junior and Tinker Tubbs never missed an auction if it could be avoided. They liked Mastodon Brown and he liked them. As he often said, “There is a lotta dog in them boys, and they make a fine pair, a whippet and a mastiff.” Woodie and Tinker never knew what surprises the Brown auctions might hold.

One year a group of college students had strayed off campus during a demonstration advocating free heroin and an end to wars in Vietnam, Zambia, Bangladesh, the Middle East, Rhodesia, and Chicago, and tried to disrupt the auction.

The group was abruptly fragmented.

It took flight as individuals streaming beards jetted across Main Street, into the neighborhoods, over backyards, through shrubbery and into the green countryside. And each individual, like the fox in the Old English sporting prints, was pursued by his own pack of dogs, all suitably mongrel.

Woodie told his mother later that Mastodon Brown gave a secret signal to start the chase. Tinker claimed that all he did was to holler, “Bones, bones, bones, boys! Bones, bones, bones, boys!”

There was no such excitement this time. Mastodon had pacificed the smaller children who had not been blessed with dogs and threatened to kick in the bicycle wheels of some of the older sprouts so the was peace among the young. Some of the older onlookers seemed downright sleepy. The local police chief was picking his teeth with a twig that he’d picked up from the ground. Only the parents of the children who had successfully bid on new pets looked dangerous. Mastodon Brown didn’t care how they looked.

Woodie spotted his father with a stranger on the fringe of the dispersing crowd. The stranger seemed fascinated with the dogs which kept leaping in and out of the dog catcher’s truck cage as though they and not Mastodon called the shots with that cage. He and Tinker angled over to say hello, passing Mastodon as they did so.

“Hi, Mr. Brown,” said Woodie

“Hi, Mr. Brown,” said Tinker.

“Woodie, Tinker, by golly, you fellas are certainly stringing out these days. Seen you play football, Tink, an’ I think you’ll be all right. Woodie, you’re beginnin’ to look like Sergeant York. He was an ignorant hillbilly that turned into a hero durin’ the war in France. Hear you got your head stove in. Bad thing, them stove in heads. All right now though, I see.”

Mastodon paused.

“Somethin’ botherin’ them dogs, makin’ ‘em uneasy.”

“That’s my father over by the truck,” said Woodie.

“It ain’t your father. I know. He comes on easy to dogs, an’ with the right flavor, sort of. Somethin’ else, and nasty. You hear that Luther whine?”

“Can’t say I do, Mr. Brown,” said Woodie.

“Well, if it gets bad, they’ll tell me. Goodbye lads.”

“Hey, Woodie, Tinker.”

His father never seemed to raise his voice, but it carried. Woodie often wondered about that. It must be some trick his dad picked up lecturing so much or handling his classes.

“Morning. Mr. Kynwood,” said Tinker.

“Tinker, this is Dr. Finn Station. Not a medical man, a scholar. He chairs the language department at Jackson University in Maryland. He’s visiting here, and I’m showing him around a bit. Dr. Stanton, this is Tinker Tubbs, one of my son’s friends, and my son, Woodie.”

“Did you like Mastodon’s auction, sir?” asked Tinker politely.

“It had its positive aspects,” said Dr. Stanton.

He was a stocky man with a bland, round face and close cropped straw hair thin enough to expose a scalp now faintly pink in the chill breeze which mocked the February sunlight. There was nothing academic about him. In fact, he looked like what a successful manufacturer thought he ought to look like on a day in the country. He wore a blue blazer over a heavy blue turtleneck sweater, gray slacks and black brogues. His lips were full and thick, but they looked like lips that didn’t choose to smile much. Ballard Kynwood Senior had squired odder types from time to time as part of his university duties, thought Woodie. There was that prize-winning poet with the Afro hair-do and the dashiki and love beads, for instance. The poet had gone up with the Chicago Cubs and was punching the ball out of the park like the second coming of Henry Aaron and writing up a blizzard of poetry on the side. Now this man was a respectable language expert who looked like the head income tax accountant for the world’s biggest oil company.

Woodie could hear Luther whine.

The ring Dr. Bailiff gave him was pricking his finger. He shoved his ring hand into his pocket. His whole hand felt tingly and prickly.

“I hope you like Marterville, sir,” he said.

This is the way that evil comes. Not by night to the dark room with the whimpering noises and the storm blown blinds. Not by darkness to the twisted alleys and the dank, hidden places. Not by stealth. Evil walks upright by daylight in the sunshine and goes to church. It is granted acceptance with little chuckles and friendly nudges. Why, really now, nothing can be really wrong where everyone does a little wrong, and he who says he doesn’t cheat just hasn’t been found out yet. This is the way that evil comes – with routine respectability, hardly bothering with disguise when boldness, arrogance and the daily deceits taken for granted can destroy a person, a people and a county so easily.

“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a very nice place,” said Dr. Finn Station. “I think colleges belong in small suburbs somehow.”

“Well, the land they built them on at the time was cheaper than city properties,” chuckled Ballard Kynwood Senior.

Not like The Watchers, Dr. Bailiff had explained. Dark power wielders were more like talents for hire in gangs … or non-directed individuals who took orders from no one and destroyed for their own pleasure … or the sick, with frustrated ambitions thwarted by the power in others, particularly the white power…

Was the man with his father in Marterville by accident? By coincidence? Had he been bidden to come? Or drawn here like a ferret on the trail of some new manifestation of the power itself?

Woodie felt the first mild touch of intrusion within his mind.

His dad and Tinker were chatting amicably about the dogs. Dr. Finn Stanton had doubtless run a survey over them and dismissed them with contempt.

“Mastodon said that something was bugging them,” said Tinker.

“The yellow one with the spots whose mother probably a Dalmatian done in by a camel is whining and nipping the others for attention.”

“Has to be Luther,” said Tink.

The probe grew stronger. Woodie blocked it. It became insistent. Woodie closed a door. The force focused and bored. Woodie bent back its edge. It came now, a driving spear plunging cruelly. Woodie closed another barrier. There was black fire that became a lance of icy heat, which thrust into an opening of its own making and exploded into splinters of shock.

Black power feeds on anger. Were those Dr. Bailiff’s instructions echoing or his own secret knowledge? Woodie felt his own gift as it gathered the heat, the splinters, the lance and the burglar violence. He felt it peak and released it without passion as coolly as Tinker shooting baskets.

There was no need to close any more doors, and none at all for retreat.

Dr. Finn Staton, very red of face, his throat bulging within his blue turtleneck sweater and his thick lips slack, fell to the ground.

“The man’s having a stroke,” cried Woodie’s father.

“The ambulance is right here in the firehouse next door,” said Tinker and sprinted to summon it.

“Geezle beezle,” said Mastodon Brown. “There’s allus something. You dogs mind your business and let the men mind their’n. You ain’t men so stop that stupid hoppin’ around like ‘em.”

Dr. Bailiff was a gentle, soothing comfort in his mind.

“All right now, Woodie, all right. And don’t even think of punishing yourself, boy. You’ll learn that the power may sometimes protect itself simply because it is the power. And you’ll learn control, perhaps complete control, I’ll see you soon …”

“I’ll go to the hospital with him,” said Ballard Senior.

“We’ll go too,” said Tinker watching the First Aid squad go competently about its business.

“Nah, you won’t. Thanks anyway, but there’ll be all kinds of fatheads with forms to fill out. And, if this poor guy doesn’t have all the right numbers, hospital plans, a numbered Swiss bank account and membership in four unions, two clubs and a Diner’s card, they’ll heave him in the street to die. Be lots of phoning to do too. No, you go on home. Tell your mother to forget the fancy lunch for Dr. Stanton. But don’t eat the aspic until I get there.”

“A stroke is like a cerebral hemorrhage, isn’t it, Dad?”

“I think so. Why?”

“Holler for Dr. Todd. He’s the brain and neuro-surgical department, isn’t he? And he practically lives in the hospital anyhow.

“Sound notion. Goodbye, fellows.”

Tinker walked to the front of the ambulance and spoke to the driver.

“Use the siren a lot, Bewford,” he said. “You don’t’ want to stay a nothing when you can be a something, do you Bewford? Keep your thumb on the button, Bewford. There goes ol’ Bewford saving lives again, and you can’t hardly see the egg in his mustache. You got a driver’s license, Bewford?”

“Stick your head under the front wheel, Tinker.”

Woodie and Tinker headed for Woodie’s house. At the corner of Elm and Bayberry Streets they took a short cut through Mrs. Waldo Humpington’s side yard. Mrs. Humpington was in Florida where, according to Tinker who had it from his father, she was wearing out her fourth husband because he smacked his lips loudly while eating and she was tired of him anyhow.

Woodie threw up in Mrs. Humpington’s rhododendrons.

“Jeest,” said Tinker. He imitated Mastodon Brown’s voice. “Maybe you ain’t got over a stove in head. Takes a long time when your head’s all stove in.” He put a hand on Woodie’s shoulder and Woodie stood erect and shivered. His voice became Tinker’s again, and softly concerned. “You all right, buddy?”

Woodie bent and threw up again.

He spoke from a crouch.

“I can take you, Tubbs, any day for money, marbles or chalk,” he said.

“That’s my baby. Come on. I’ll ask your mother to give you a nice drink of hot bacon fat with four whole dead flies in it.”

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Chapter Twenty Three Chapter Twenty Four Chapter Twenty Five Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Seven Chapter Twenty Eight Chapter Twenty Nine Chapter Thirty
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