When Charlie emerged from the trees, Max, his eleven-year-old Black Lab mix was sleeping on the front porch. When he heard Charlie coming he stood up and stretched.
Charlie greeted him and patted his head. “Hey Max, ya waitin’ on me?”
Max began to wag his tail in circles.
“Ya been a good boy? Catch any rabbits today?” Charlie said as he opened the door to his house and set his toolbox down on the floor.
His home was one of the remaining slave quarters built before the Civil War. The floor was made from warped planks. There was a cast iron stove in the corner and in the center of the room there was a wooden table that doubled as a workbench. The room also contained a bed against the window where Max liked to sleep while waiting for Charlie to return home. Whenever Charlie found dog hair on his bed, he knew what Max was up to, but he never scolded him. He appreciated being missed by someone.
After dinner, Charlie changed into a clean shirt and pants. He was all cleaned up and ready to see Mr. Huck to get paid.
“Okay, ya be a good boy and stay here while I go get our money,” Charlie said. “I’ll be back soon.”
Max wagged his tail as he watched Charlie walk out the door.
When Charlie got to the Huck’s house, there was shouting and crying from inside. He stood on the porch and listened carefully. It sounded like Mrs. Huck who was crying. When he looked through the screen door, he saw Mrs. Huck running into the sitting room. Mr. Huck was chasing her; he was drunk and staggering. When he finally caught up to her, he spun her around and backhanded her hard across the face. The blow caused her to fall to the floor, and immediately cower into the corner.
“Please, Wally, stop!” Maggie cried out with desperation in her voice.
Charlie heard Mrs. Huck as he stood on the porch paralyzed. The look on her face took him back to when he was twelve years old.
It was at night when Charlie’s parents were in front of their house. There was a lot of commotion. Charlie and his little brother, Robert were frightened. When they looked out the window they were shocked when they saw a man on their mother. He was a large man, and he wore a white sheeted outfit with a pointed hood. They watched as their mother struggled with all her strength as the man groped her. There was blood on her lip. Her blouse was also torn, and her breasts were exposed. He recalled how she managed to rip off the man’s hood and dig her fingernails deep into his cheek.
In his mind, Charlie could still hear the sound of the man howling in agony and his cheek bled profusely. Charlie remembered how frightened and helpless he felt as the man viciously struck his mother again, and again.
“Wally, stop!” Mrs. Huck cried out. Her cry snapped Charlie out of his trance. Without further hesitation, Charlie stormed through the Huck’s house, spun Wally around, and struck him on the jaw. Wally instantly fell to the floor like a ton of bricks. He was out cold.
“Oh my God,” Mrs. Huck said. “What have you done? I mean thank you and all, but you don’t know what ya just done.”
“I saw him beatin’ on ya, and I heard ya yellin’ for him to stop,” Charlie said.
“I know. He gets mean when he drinks.” She stood there dazed for a moment. Then suddenly she grabbed Charlie’s hand and led him into the hallway. “C’mon, he and his boys will come after ya. If they find ya, they’ll kill ya.”
As she rummaged through the closet searching for something, Charlie noticed a Klan outfit hanging on the back of the door. It made him realize the trouble he was in. Suddenly fear came upon him like a tidal wave. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and his stomach twist into knots.
Mrs. Huck opened a shoebox, removed five dollars that was hidden inside, and forced the money into his hand. “Here, Charlie, take it. I know we owe ya more for your work, but it’s all I got. I was saving it for ... well, never mind.” She was too embarrassed to tell Charlie she planned on using it to run away. “I’d get as far away from here as possible if I was you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Huck,” Charlie said accepting the money.
“Ya have a good heart, Charlie. Now get before he comes to.”
When Charlie reached the door, he stopped and looked back at Mrs. Huck. He wished there was something he could do for her. Somehow repay her for her kindness.
“Good luck, Charlie. Now go, hurry!”
Charlie ran from the house. When he reached the dirt road, he stopped and turned. He looked at the house and thought about the Klan outfit that hung in the closet. Then he thought about the composed smile Huck wore each time he saw him. He wondered if they were gratifying memories that he and his Klan secretly kept.
Charlie thought of finishing Wally off. His hands were strong enough and they could easily snap his neck. However, even if Wally did murder Charlie’s family, there was no proof. And if a black man killed a white man in the South, it would surely mean a death sentence—considering he lived long enough to stand trial.
Charlie liked Mrs. Huck. He felt sorry for her and felt that the abuse she endured all these years needed to stop, but she needed to deal with her husband her own way. Poor woman.
The only thing Charlie could do now was run. He had to get out of town and fast. He ran about forty yards until he abruptly stopped in his tracks. His jaw dropped, and he gasped. Max! I gotta get Max!
Charlie turned and ran. When he reached the trees near his house, he put his hands on his knees until he caught his breath. Almost home!
Beyond the oak trees was the dirt road that led to Charlie’s garden and then his house. Charlie was relieved, he was almost there. Just thirty more yards and he’d reach his home. He’d get Max, and they’d be on their way, never to be seen by Wally Huck again.
Charlie made it to the dirt road when he suddenly saw lights flickering in the distance. Headlights! Must be Huck!
He had to decide whether to get Max and risk getting caught, or hide, wait for Huck to leave, and then get Max. He decided to get Max, but the truck was too close now. He realized it was traveling much faster than he thought. He’d have to get Max later.
Charlie quickly took cover in his garden and got on his stomach. He watched as Huck’s truck stopped in front of his house. Huck had three other men with him. They all climbed out of the truck carrying shotguns and headed towards Charlie’s house.
Max began barking when Huck and his men approached the door. Charlie watched helplessly and grew anxious when they entered his house. If only I left Max outside!
Charlie could hear Max’s bark become more intense and then mix with growls.
Huck’s voice resonated from within the house. “Hank, kill that fuckin’ dog!”
Charlie’s eyes widened in horror. No! Oh Lord, please no!
Then there was a sound of a gun blast. It rang with an echo, and then silence.
Charlie flinched from the sound. When he opened his eyes they were filled with tears. “Oh Max,” he said softly as he bowed his head. The only thing left for Charlie to do was run, and so he did.
When Huck and his men exited Charlie’s house, they scanned the area. “Fuckin’ nigga ain’t here,” Huck said.
“What we do now?” one of the men asked.
Charlie ran until he was approximately a mile from his house. He could barely see from the tears in his eyes. He was mixed with uncontrollable anger and heartache. When he stopped running, he wiped his eyes. When he looked back there was an orange glow in the sky. He knew it was his house. Now, he was convinced that Wally Huck had murdered his family—their house had also been set on fire and burnt to the ground; apparently, Huck’s calling card.