The man unzipped his bag and took out his computer. “I’m a reporter for WSFL. Maybe you’ve seen me on TV.”
“That’s where,” Billy said. “Boy, do I got stories to tell you.” But Billy read people like a canvas banner hangin in front of a sideshow. This guy was through talkin.
He put his coin away. He woulda enjoyed answerin questions. He often played the interview game, pretendin someone like Lesley Stahl asked him questions on 60 Minutes and him talkin bout his life. He imagined microphones, and lights spread all around as he sat center stage for the world to hear his story.
He woulda even enjoyed a conversation with Ben Gay, but he was too busy gawkin at his phone.
People ignorin him did have its advantages, like stealin butter and Hershey bars in the grocery store, snatchin things in the bank, like pens and paper tablets, sometimes right under the nose of the tellers, just to show em. So what if they caught him.
Billy sunk in his seat thinkin that the reporter cross from him woulda jumped through dog-hoops to interview him if he knowed what Billy had done out past the midway on that sweltering August night back in nineteen fifty.
That night, he remembered the marks had all left. But somethin nagged at him, call it sixth sense, or maybe it was that new guy who strutted into town and took a job with the carnival, sold popcorn, cleaned up the tiger and monkey cages and the johns, jobs he did when he first joined. Billy didn’t like him from the git-go.
One day he caught him stickin his cigarette into Tuffi. Tuffi reared on her hind legs, her trunk swingin wild. He knocked the new fella to the ground, told him if he ever caught him doin that again he’d make him real sorry. Well, bout two weeks later, he saw him kickin the freak, Stumpy. Billy done did what he promised. He slugged the guy so hard he doubled and rolled on the ground, moanin. Billy thought that’d be it until the guy git up and come after him swingin and givin him a black eye. Mason was his name, mean, as cruel as Billy’s daddy.
That night, Billy went from tent to tent lookin inside, makin sure no one was there. He recalled checkin under the stage where the kids used to hide so’s they could look up the costumes of the hoochie-coochie girls and how the sawdust would have to be scattered real nice like in the mornin, he could smell it now, how it always reminded him of his brother.
The trailers had their lights on. He heard laughter, people talking; ice cubes clinkin into glasses, fiddle music comin out of a radio, like any other, cept it was hotter than most, sultry, the kinda night Billy wished he had a woman to keep him company.
Billy began to hike. In those days, he had so much sex surgin through his twenty-year-old body, some nights he just had to walk it off.
He was down at the end of the midway, near the draped cage where the monkeys was cooped. The sun been gone for a couple of hours, and it was like openin night for the stars, millions of em. He recalled takin in the wonder of it, magic, real magic, where the night was brushed by the stroke of a master.
Billy began to hike. In those days, he had so much sex surgin through his twenty-year-old body, some nights he just had to walk it off. Till the day he died he’d remember the moon, wide and plump, near full, the crickets loud as he headed north toward an empty field and beyond that the woods, tree branches rustlin, spiky against a dark blue sky.
Billy breathed in the air, thick with the long leaf pine. He was thinkin bout his ma, feelin blue bout leavin her behind with the devil. Billy kept walkin. His shirt drenched in sweat. He wished he had a smoke, but he kept goin, crossin the brink of the woods.
He was gonna jack-off when somethin sounded. He stopped. An animal? Yeah. A moan cut off. No. Not an animal. Somethin muffled. A cry. Human.
Billy led with his toes feelin for twigs and dried leaves, like huntin with his daddy. He moved toward the moan. The hairs on his body sprung up. From the light of the moon, he saw somethin white swipe back and forth cross the ground. The hunched form of a man. The cries. Billy crept forward. Listenin. Strainin his eyes so’s to make sure.
Mason held Daisy’s face to the dirt, rapin her from behind. Her tiny fists battered the ground. Her little body struggled under his.
He sneaked up on Mason as he pumped away, groanin like a pig, loud enough so’s to make it easy for Billy to come up behind him and wrap his strong young fingers round his neck and squeeze. Mason grabbed at his hands. Billy felt his nails gouge his skin. Blood spewed wet and sticky, but Billy put all six-foot, two-hundred pounds into stranglin him.
Sweat ran down his chin and fell on Mason’s head, Billy felt it roll off the backs of his fingers, but so tight was his hold it never got the chance to threaten his grip. With the wrong this man done to Daisy, Billy’s hands made sure Mason never do it again. He held on, even when he felt life surrender. Then, Billy rolled him on his side with Mason’s little pecker exposed. “Let me!” He remembered Daisy demandin. Pullin down her dress she done give him a kick to the nuts and then one to the face and spat on him. She looked up at Billy, hair all tangled, nose bleedin and said, “You ever say a word about this, I’ll kill you myself.” From that day on, as long as they traveled together, no one would hurt her.
Billy stared out the window, passin the North bound Silver Star, long fences of hedges, warehouses. He nodded. The conductor garbled somethin bout Winter Haven. The forward movement, the click-clackin over the rails, relivin that night with Daisy and him bein eighty-five years old — Billy slipped into darkness.