Betty raced through the hospital’s waiting room doors and found Charlie sitting nervously in the corner. When he saw her, he sprang to his feet. She rushed into his arms. She was still in shock and exhausted as she spoke rapidly.
“The Veterinarian said Daisy has two cracked ribs and some soft-tissue injuries,” Betty said trying to catch her breath. “He said she’ll be okay. He wrapped her up and said he wanted to keep her for a couple of days to monitor her. How’s Zach? Have you heard anything?”
“No, I’m still waiting for the doctor,” Charlie said. “They said he’ll come out and let me know how he’s doing, but it’s been over three hours, and I’m worried.”
Charlie did everything to keep his tears from falling. Betty took Charlie’s hand and kissed it.
“Don’t worry, baby,” Betty said. “He’ll be all right. God will look over him. You have to have faith.” But Faith wasn’t exactly Charlie’s strength. His family was murdered, Max was shot and killed, he was hunted by the Ku Klux Klan, and now Zach and Daisy were attacked. He felt as though he was being punished for something he had done. He couldn’t understand why awful things always seemed to happen to the people he loved.
Suddenly a doctor entered the waiting room. He wore a white coat over his scrubs. He was a young man in his late twenties with wire rim glasses. “Mr. Franklin?”
Charlie and Betty immediately stood up. Charlie’s legs felt weak. His stomach began to turn. He was afraid to hear what the doctor had to say, but he had to know. “I’m Mr. Franklin,” Charlie said. His voice cracked from his trepidation, and his hands were trembling.
The doctor approached them. “I’m Doctor Stevenson. I’m treating Mr. Mullins,” he said in a monotone voice.
“How is he?” Charlie asked.
“Well, he’s stable,” Stevenson said. “But he really took a beating. He has a fractured cheekbone and needed fifteen sutures on his cheek, and eleven above his eye. Unfortunately, we couldn’t save his left eye.”
Betty’s hands flew to her mouth. “Oh my God,” she said in horror. Charlie shook his head no. He couldn’t believe this was happening. “Will he be okay?” Betty asked.
“Well, as you know, he’s a dwarf,” Stevenson said. He paused briefly, he wanted to find the proper way to tell them the long term diagnosis.
“Yeah, so?” Charlie said. He listened attentively to what the doctor was about to tell them.
The doctor continued, “You have to understand that most dwarfs don’t develop internally the same as you and I.”
“So, what are you saying?” Betty asked.
“What I’m saying is, their organs sometimes don’t develop fully, or if they do, sometimes they don’t function as well. We’re still learning about dwarfism and how it affects them internally. Their organs, bones, joints, things like that.”
“Doctor please, just tell us. Will he be okay?” Charlie asked.
Doctor Stevenson took a deep breath and exhaled. He looked exhausted. “I’m afraid Mr. Mullins will never fully recover from this. His liver is damaged. We’d like to do more tests and see what happens in a few days, but the way things currently appear, I’m sorry to say that his time is limited.”
Charlie released Betty’s hand and covered his face. He turned away and began to cry.
“How long does he have?” Betty asked softly.
“A few months perhaps ... maybe less, maybe more,” Stevenson said. “We’re not exactly sure. I’m so sorry.”
Charlie faced the doctor. His eyes were red and swollen, and his cheeks were sodden from crying. “Can we see him?”
“Yes, of course,” Stevenson said. “We gave him something to make him comfortable, so he’s going to be very groggy. He’s still in ICU. Just try to keep it short, he needs lots of rest.”
When Charlie and Betty entered the ICU, there was a nurse taking Zach’s vitals. “Are you Charlie?” the nurse asked softly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Charlie replied.
“He’s been asking for you. Poor little fella,” the nurse said. She finished up taking Zach’s vitals and left.
When Charlie and Betty approached the bed, they saw that Zach had an I.V. in his arm. They both were shocked by the way Zach looked. His face was swollen and terribly bruised. It was partially bandaged with white gauze, and he was wearing a corset brace around his torso. It was surreal, he looked so different, yet the same. Betty felt sorry for Zach and started to cry.
Charlie gently slipped his hand under Zach’s and caressed it. Zach slowly opened his eye. “Hey buddy,” he said. He felt stupid for not knowing what to say and tried to hide the fact that he too was crying.
Zach’s voice was weak. “How’s Daisy?”
“She’ll be fine,” Betty said composing herself. “The Veterinarian wants to keep her for a few days, but she’ll be fine.”
“Charlie, about what happened.” Zach said struggling to get the words out through his bruised and swollen lips.
“Don’t worry about that,” Charlie said. “The police came and said our homeowner’s insurance will cover everything. You don’t have to worry.”
“No,” Zach mumbled. “It ain’t what ya think.”
“What do you mean?”
“The train ... when we first met ... remember those guys?”
“Yeah, I remember,” Charlie said.
“The last one ... that jumped.”
“Are you saying it was him? How did he—?”
“The newspaper article ... our shop,” Zach said. “He’s been stalking us. Be careful ... watch your back.” He was weak, the medication and the beating was just too much for him. He quietly slipped away into unconsciousness looking like a helpless little boy sleeping.
“What was he talking about?” Betty asked. “What men? What train?”
“When Zach and I first met, we were on a freight train and some guys were robbing him,” Charlie said. “They were beating him, so I helped him. I threw them off the train. That’s how we met and became friends.
“You defended Zach, and now after all these years one of those creeps wants revenge?” Betty asked. “What about you, is he going to come after you next? What type of sick person does this? You need to tell the police!”
“I don’t think he’ll come after me, he probably got what he wanted; money. Zach had a stash hidden in his room, and he probably found it. I’m sure he’s long gone by now.”
“It doesn’t sound like it’s about money,” Betty said. “What about the beating Zach got? Are you next? Is that why Zach said to be careful and watch your back?”
Charlie knew that Betty’s assumptions were probably accurate, but he didn’t want her to worry, so he continued making excuses. “Zach was an easy target, he’s small. He won’t come after me.”
“You don’t know that, Charlie! This man is a maniac! You have to tell the police!”
“What am I gonna tell them? I don’t even know the man’s name.”
“But you have a description!”
“That was a long time ago. I don’t even remember what he looks like now. I’m tired, I just wanna go home.”
“You have to go to the police and tell them,” Betty said. She wasn’t easing up on Charlie.
“Betty, I said I’m tired, and I want to go home!” Charlie’s outburst frightened Betty, she had never heard him snap at anyone before. “I’m sorry. I know you’re only worried about me and just trying to help. I’m exhausted. It’s been a long day, and I just want to go home and go to bed.”
Betty gently touched Charlie’s cheek. “I know Baby, I’m just worried because I love you so much.”
Charlie kissed Betty’s forehead and held her in his arms. “I love you too. Don’t worry, nothing’s gonna happen to me. I’ll talk to the police tomorrow.”
When Charlie entered the house it was dark. He turned the lights on and looked around the room. It was unusually quiet and he was all alone. It gave him a strange ghostly feeling.
He slowly entered the living room and found Daisy’s ball on the bloodstained carpet. He could hear voices in his head as though he was back in the waiting room of the hospital.
Daisy has two cracked ribs and some soft-tissue injuries.
We couldn’t save his left eye.
I’m afraid Mr. Mullins will never fully recover from this.
I’m sorry to say, his time is limited.
How long does he have?
A few months perhaps, maybe less, maybe more.
Charlie stood in the living room tormented from everything that had occurred that day. He clutched the sides of his head and tried squeezing out the voices, but he couldn’t escape them. His face grew rigid, and his eyes widened. He couldn’t take anymore and let out a horrific bellow from deep inside him.
The train yard was on the seedy side of San Francisco where the “Wharf Rats” stayed. Charlie saw a group of bums gathered around a fire they had burning in a garbage can. They looked tattered and sordid and were passing a bottle of whiskey between them.
It was dark and getting cold. The only light was from the fire and the street lights in the distance. Charlie was determined to find Lucas Diehl. He wanted him to pay for what he had done to Zach.
Charlie marched through all the streets and alleys near the train yard as though he was on a mission. He kicked the feet of sleeping winos to wake them so that he could examine their faces, hoping to find the animal he was searching for. He searched for hours on end and became exhausted. When he came upon an alley near a sleazy tavern, he leaned against the brick wall of an adjacent building to rest. He was beginning to think that he would never find Diehl.
After a few minutes, a man exited the tavern with a bottle tucked under his arm. He limped down the steps and staggered to the alley on the side of the building. Then a stream of urine crossed the alley toward Charlie’s feet. Charlie moved out of the way in disgust. He watched the man thinking that only a vile pig would urinate on the wall like that; something Diehl would do.
When the man turned and fastened his fly, he staggered causing his bottle to slip from under his arm and crash onto the cobblestones beneath his feet. “Shit!” the man blurted.
Charlie couldn’t believe his eyes. Could the animal that beat Zach be standing right in front of him? He had to get a better look to be sure. It was him, he recognized the scar on his face. Suddenly it all came back to Charlie how this man had beaten Zach, attacked him with a crowbar, and then threatened to get even with them before he jumped from the train. He stood in the darkness of the alley and watched Diehl.
Lucas Diehl sensed that someone was in the alley with him. “Who’s there?” he said. “Come closer, so I can see your ugly face!”
Charlie stepped closer. “Is this better?”
“Why look, it’s the nigga,” Diehl said. “Hey Nigga, I was wonderin’ when I was gonna run into ya.” He found the situation humorous and began to laugh as he staggered towards Charlie. “How’s the little fucker doing?”
Charlie’s eyes widened, his face contorted from rage. He lunged forward, but suddenly stopped when he saw a switchblade snap open in Diehl’s hand. Its blade was long, gleaming, and looked as sharp as a razor. Charlie quickly stepped back.
“What’s the matter, Nigga?” Diehl said as he stepped forward. The corner of his mouth raised into a smirk.
Charlie could see that Diehl was actually enjoying himself. Charlie knew he was trapped in the alley, and the only way out was around Diehl and his knife. Diehl also knew it, causing his smirk to grow into a smile from the thrill.
“C’mon, Nigga,” Diehl said. He took another step toward Charlie waving his knife. “C’mon you big fuckin’ nigga. The only way out of here is through me. Ain’t so tough now, huh?”
Diehl’s cold eyes looked vacantly at Charlie. There was no warmth or compassion or any sign of sensitivity whatsoever. He was a sadistic psychopath and his eyes were fixated on Charlie.
Charlie had no choice but to fight, and this time he was fighting for his life. He began to circle Diehl, emulating his fighting days.
“That’s it,” Diehl said. “C’mon, let’s see what ya got. I’m gonna gut ya like a dead fish.” He stepped closer to Charlie gripping his knife tight. “And when I’m done with ya, I’m gonna pay your little honey a visit ... never had me a black bitch before.” He grabbed his crotch with his free hand and started rubbing it, which added to the rage that was already building up inside of Charlie. “How’s that sound, Nigga? Me and your little black whore. And when I’m done with her, I’m gonna slit her throat just like I’m gonna do yours.” He began to laugh heartily as though he were the devil himself.
The thought of Betty being violated by this animal was sickening to Charlie. His blood began to boil. His face contorted from the rage inside him that he no longer had control of. He had enough and finally lost it. He didn’t care any longer whether Diehl had a knife or not. Diehl had to be stopped, and he had to be stopped now before this crazed psychopath hurt someone else. Charlie had made up his mind that he would see to that. “You sick bastard,” he said as he lunged forward with a thrusting kick that sent Diehl sailing into the garbage cans a few feet behind him.
After a minute or two, Diehl slowly managed to crawl from the pile of garbage. Though he was in a lot of pain, he was more determined than ever in getting back at Charlie. All he wanted now was to slit Charlie’s throat, but he suddenly realized his knife was gone. He desperately searched the alley for it. Without his knife he had no chance against Charlie, he was much too big and strong.
In the dim light, Diehl noticed his knife a few feet away in the middle of the alley. He scrambled quickly on his hands and knees toward it. He stretched out his hand laughing. He was only inches from it when suddenly Charlie’s foot crashed down hard on his hand, causing him to shriek in pain. Then Charlie kicked the knife and watched as it disappeared into the dark alley.
Out of nowhere, Charlie felt a sharp pain on the side of his head. He felt dizzy and staggered. Then he heard what sounded like a garbage can lid fall beside him onto the cobblestone. He watched as Diehl disappeared into the darkness after his knife.
Charlie quickly picked up the garbage can lid and chased after Diehl into the black alley. He couldn’t see a thing. He froze in his tracks and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Suddenly he heard footsteps running toward him. He knew that Diehl had probably found his knife, or some other object, and was coming for him, but he wasn’t sure from which direction. He held up the garbage can lid up in front of him and hoped for the best. Suddenly he felt the knife strike and score across the metal lid making a sharp scratching sound. He knew Diehl had to be close. Maybe close enough to hit, so he took a chance and threw a wild punch, but he missed. Charlie felt vulnerable surrounded by the darkness until the moon had miraculously broken through the fog. Then he saw something move at his side. He threw another punch. This time it landed square on Diehl’s jaw causing Diehl to drop like a ton of bricks.
Charlie could see Diehl on the ground trying to shake off the punch. He wrapped his hands around Diehl’s throat and began to squeeze. Gurgling sounds came from his mouth as he gasped for air. Charlie could see that Diehl’s eyes were starting to bulge as well as the veins in his forehead. At that point, Charlie’s rage took him back to the night his family was brutally murdered.
It was October 6, 1918. Charlie, his parents, and brother were all sitting at their dinner table that evening. His mother had made him his favorite pecan pie for his twelfth birthday. She placed a candle in the center of the pie, lit it, and began to sing Happy Birthday to him. Then his father and brother joined in and sang along.
Suddenly there was a loud crashing sound that startled them. They all jumped to their feet wondering what it was. They noticed a rock had been thrown through their kitchen window leaving a gaping hole and broken glass all over the floor. Through the broken window, they could see five men wearing white hooded outfits. They were standing in their front yard holding torches. One of the men, presumably the leader of the group, called out.
“C’mon out, Franklin,” the leader said. “We want to talk to ya!”
Charlie’s family huddled together. They didn’t know what the men wanted and became petrified.
“Franklin, c’mon out, or we’ll burn ya house down with y’all in it!”
“I have to go out there,” Charlie’s father said.
“No Poppa, no!” Charlie and his brother cried out.
“I have to,” his father said, “I have no other choice.” He began to peel their arms off him, but they held onto him for dear life.
“James, don’t go,” his wife cried out.
“I have to baby, or they’ll burn this house down with all of us in it. I love you and the boys too much to let that happen. Take the boys and go. Climb out the back window and run. It’s our only chance. I’ll see what they want, and if I have to I’ll break for the woods. We can meet at the church. Now go, I’ll be all right!”
Charlie’s mother knew that her husband wouldn’t be all right, and that he was just being brave for his family. She knew he was frightened for their lives.
Charlie’s father slowly turned and exited the house wondering if it would be the last time he would see his family. He shut the door behind him as he walked across their front porch. Then he took a few steps into the yard. His legs felt weak and were trembling. “What is it y’all want?” he shouted at the hooded men.
“Well now,” the leader said. “We been hearin’ ya been educatin’ some of ya nigga friends. Teachin’ them readin’ and writin’ and all.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Charlie’s father said. He tried to stand his ground and not look frightened, but he was terrified. “It’s not against the law, it’s our civil right!”
“Well, ain’t you a smart nigga,” the leader said, “knowin’ your civil rights and all. Maybe ya think ya smarter than us. Ya think ya smarter than us, Nigga?”
“No sir,” Charlie’s father replied.
“Well now, I think ya do."
“I didn’t say that,” Charlie’s father said.
“Do ya know what we do to niggas that think they’re smarter than us?” He nodded to one of the men holding a long rope. The man threw the rope high into one of the trees in the yard. The rope flew over a thick branch and came down the other side with a noose dangling at the end.
Charlie’s father looked for a clear path to break and run for the woods, when suddenly his wife exited the house yielding a shotgun. “Get the hell outta here!” she shouted. “Just leave us be, or I’ll blow your heads off!” She moved closer to her husband while pointing the gun in the direction of the men wearing the Klan garb.
The leader lifted his hood exposing his face long enough to smirk as though an idea had suddenly occurred to him. It was Wally Huck, and he was in his early thirties, much thinner, and ruthless as ever.
Charlie struggled to see his face from the window, but his mother was standing in his way.
“Get that bitch!” Huck ordered.
She fired a warning shot in the air. The blast sounded as though it echoed for miles. “I said get the hell outta here, and I mean it!” She aimed the shotgun directly at Huck. “I ain’t gonna say it again. Just leave us be ... please.”
Huck’s smirk had dissolved before he lowered the hood back over his face. He watched as one of his men slowly crept up behind Charlie’s mother, but the man gave himself away when he stepped on a dry twig. She spun around and fired a shot at him, but he was too close to her. The pellets from the blast didn’t have enough time to spread, causing her to miss. She immediately reloaded her shotgun, but the man had gotten to her and struck her before she could finish reloading. When she fell to the ground, she dropped the gun.
Charlie’s father saw the gun fall and went after it, but the Klan man picked it up first. He smiled at Charlie’s father and then slammed the end of the gun into his stomach causing him to double over. Then two men grabbed him and dragged him to the tree where the rope was, and placed the noose around his neck. The rope became taunt when Huck pulled the other end.
From the window, Charlie and his brother watched their father. They watched in horror as the men began beating him as though he was a punching bag. Each man punched and kicked him as his body swung uncontrollably.
When they finally stopped beating Charlie’s father, he hung bloodied and weak, gasping for air. He knew he had to get on his toes, and air in his lungs or he would pass out and die from strangulation. He was a strong man and finally managed to get back onto his toes after a desperate struggle. However, his vision was blurry, and his ribs felt as though they were cracked. Everything was muffled, except for the sound of his pulse pumping in his ears. He didn’t know whether he could endure anymore punishment.
“Welcome back,” Huck said. “Thought we almost lost ya there for a minute. Now, ya can watch the rest of the show.”
Just when Charlie’s father thought things couldn’t get any worse, he was forced to watch one of the Klan men climb on his wife and tear her clothes. Charlie’s father watched helplessly as the man fondled her breasts. She had a firm body from working in the fields all her life. All the men grew aroused and watched silently, licking their lips, waiting for their turn to have their way with her.
When Charlie’s mother regained consciousness she immediately fought back, but the man on her was too big and strong. He tore the rest of her clothes until the entire front of her body was exposed.
Then the man began to unbutton his pants as he wrestled with Charlie’s mother. He easily overpowered her, and then forcefully entered her as she cried out. All the men watched and cheered, howling like animals in a pack.
Charlie’s mother fought back with everything she had. Somehow she managed to pull the man’s hood off and dig her fingernails deep into his face. As the man cried out, she ripped a piece of flesh from his cheek. Blood poured from his face as he struck her again, and again, and again.
Before Charlie knew it, his brother, Robert had run from the house with a kitchen knife in his hand. Charlie couldn’t stop him, he was too fast. He ran to the man beating his mother, and stabbed him in the back leaving the knife sticking out.
Robert began to kick the man while Charlie stood at the window paralyzed with fear. He watched as the man pulled the knife from his back, and with one long thrust, he stabbed Robert in the abdomen. He watched as his brother slowly fell to the ground as the knife protruded from his stomach.
Then each of the men raped and sodomized his mother in front of him and his father. Charlie’s father cursed them, and begged them to stop. He begged for them to kill him instead as he wept. He couldn’t take anymore.
Huck waited until they all had their turn with Charlie’s mother. Then he obliged Charlie’s father and pulled on the rope. The noose tightened around his neck and began to choke him. Then it lifted him off his feet. He began kicking his legs furiously as he clawed at the rope around his throat. After a minute or two, the kicking and thrashing ceased, and it was silent.
Charlie’s mother was still alive, but weak. Her face was swollen and bloody. She looked at Huck and cursed him. She crawled on her stomach to her son, Robert and reached out for his hand. It was cool. She knew he was dead. “I hope you burn in hell for what you did tonight, you bastards!”
Charlie watched as the hooded leader walked over and pulled the knife from Robert’s body. Then he saw him hand the knife to one of the men. “Finish her,” he said.
The man grabbed the bloodied knife by its handle and straddled Charlie’s mother. She cursed the man and then turned and looked at Charlie who was crying at the window. She mouthed the words I love you to Charlie before the man raised his arms and drove the knife deep into her chest.
“No!” Charlie cried out.
Charlie’s cry echoed throughout the alley, snapping him out of his trance. He suddenly realized if he killed Diehl, he wouldn’t be anything, but a murderer. He wouldn’t be any different from Huck and his men. He slowly removed his hands from Diehl’s throat and watched as he collapsed to the ground, gasping for air.
“Get your ugly ass outta here before I change my mind and kill you,” Charlie said. “Go, and don’t ever come back!”
Somehow Diehl managed to make it to his feet. He held his throat gasping and coughing. He staggered from the alley and then turned. “Don’t think it’s over, Nigga,” Diehl said in a hoarse voice. “One day when ya least expect it, I’ll get ya! Ya better watch your back!” Diehl stepped back without looking. Then he slipped on a cobblestone that was covered with urine causing him to fall into the street.
A speeding truck squealed as the driver slammed on its brakes, but the truck couldn’t stop in time. It made a thump sound when it struck Diehl. The truck barely came to a complete stop when the driver leaped from the cab. A small crowd had quickly gathered around the accident scene. Charlie joined the crowd and watched Diehl’s mangled body lay in the street bleeding. Blood poured from his mouth and ears as he lay dying in his own urine.
“I didn’t see him,” the driver said. “He just came outta nowhere! Somebody, call an ambulance! Hurry!”
One man checked his pulse. “Don’t bother, he’s dead.”
Charlie felt no remorse at all for Diehl. In fact, he felt relieved that it was finally over. He didn’t have to worry about Diehl and his threats any longer. They were all safe now, so he turned and walked away. Should have watched your own back.