A Dark Cloud
He had been watching from the live oak grove just the other side of the bike trail. In front of him he could see the trail, and beyond all the activity around the swing set. In the distance there was a group of rubber-neckers. Behind him was a ravine, carved out from years of runoff erosion. In the ravine grew a morass of vines, shrubs, and stunted hackberry trees. It was littered with trash, bottles, cans, windblown fast food cartons, and newspapers. It provided perfect cover. He had noticed it days before, and had scouted it. Parking in the lot of the convenience store behind which the ravine ran, he had jumped down into it in broad daylight, posing as a bottom feeder. That is what he called the people he saw walking around Oak Cliff, picking up trash, cans, and assorted tree bank junk deposited by homeowners. They would exchange this technological flotsam for whatever cash they could earn. The ravine ran under Hampton Avenue, and snaked its way along the north edge of Spring Park. As he had walked the ravine, collecting trash, he encountered nobody, only an occasional squirrel and one stray dog, thin and cautious. As he moved past the animal their eyes met, and it was as if there was a mutual recognition of what one was and what the other was becoming. He tossed the dog the remains of a chicken salad sandwich he had gotten at the convenience store. The stray gobbled it down as it watched him walk away. Working his way up the bank of the ravine, he made his way into the oak grove, to a spot where he could see. He had to see.
His mind snapped back to attention. “Shit,” he mumbled, “it’s hot in here.” As the cicadas wound up and down, as if to tell everyone he was there, he wiped his brow with his forearm and squinted through sweaty eyes to see what was happening at the swing set.
“Just like ants,” he muttered, barely audible. “Just like ants to honey. Look at ’em, just like worker ants, all in their suits and uniforms, with their scientific minds and their crime scene tools and all that ratty-tat-tat. Look at ’em, giving that dead bean dip all the attention, when they gave less than a shit about-”. He stopped abruptly as he realized that his muttering had become louder, angrier as he went on. He looked around to see if anyone was near. There was no one. The only other sound came from a Mockingbird showing off its array of birdcalls to the resident population of sparrows, cardinals, and starlings.
People were beginning to leave. He noticed a tall man in a cowboy hat get into his white truck and drive away. He saw several men place the dead man into a body bag, zip it up and carry it off to a waiting ambulance. Then he watched intently as two men in suits walked around the area where he had left the body. They were picking up things from the ground and putting them in baggies. He grinned a little. He was very careful not to leave anything behind. Like before, he had wiped out his footprints with a tree branch, one that he had cut from his own tree. It made a great broom, he thought.
He looked at his watch, it read 11:45AM. It was late morning, and already it was getting hotter. He was tired. He had been watching since just before that nimrod let his dog off the leash, and it went over to sniff that lowlife scumbag Guerra. He deserved killing; they all did, all three of them. He was sure that after the first one he would feel better. He hadn’t. Instead he got angrier. It was the same thing after the second one, same effect. Why didn’t he feel better? Wasn’t he supposed to? Isn’t that what retribution and revenge are all about? The cleansing and healing and justice…the morality of it wasn’t coming to him, not yet. His mission, his vision, had been clear from the outset. They would pay for what they did. But how many? Two, three, ten? How many more? He was not satiated. It was not over.
He turned and headed down the steep bank into the ravine. Reaching into his trash bag, he removed the tree branch he had used to wipe out his tracks. He brought it with him because he thought this the perfect place to get rid of it. No one would ever find it here. He threw the branch into the bottom of the ravine, picked up his bag, and began walking toward Hampton Street. Meandering slowly, he picked up assorted trash along the way. Through the tangled undergrowth he moved, in and out of patches of sunlight. He was underneath the Hampton Street Bridge now, stopping just long enough to watch a turtle plod its way over some rocks and into a puddle. He thought for a moment. Was he like that turtle? Was he plodding along, in aimless pursuit of some unknown reward? No, he adjusted the analogy. The turtle only appeared to plod. It negotiated its obstacles in a deliberate and patient manner. It knew where it was going. So did he.
Emerging from the other side of the bridge, he moved up the bank of the ravine, to the convenience store parking lot and scanned the scene. The lot was full. His van was on the near end, away from the entrance. He saw one person at the gas pump, an older man who was looking intently at the price/gallons window. There was a woman, young and pretty, dressed in white shorts and a matching halter blouse, with black sneakers, talking on the pay phone at the other end of the store. Neither had noticed him. Everybody else must be inside, he thought. Opening the right side back door of the van, he placed the bag of trash inside, and shut it quietly. Still no one was looking.
Into the van he climbed, a beat up two-tone burgundy and cream Chevy Mark III. Paying cash for it, he had seen it parked on one of the side streets of Oak Cliff. It had a hand painted “For Sale” sign on the windshield. He had researched his choice well beforehand, making dozens of trips into Oak Cliff, getting a read on what kind of cars and trucks were common, and which ones would draw attention. An inconspicuous vehicle with room was ideal. There were lots of nice trucks, new, some custom made with low fenders and bumpers. There were refurbished Camaros, and Mustangs in the throes of bodywork. Lots of SUV’s and vans, many of them old an in disrepair, were parked here and there along the streets. Many of them bore Mexico plates. Heaps, he called them. There were also a lot of newer, late model cares, the kind that could be found in almost any Dallas neighborhood. But mostly the cars were used, Ford’s and Chevy’s, Pontiacs and Oldsmobile’s. Finally, he settled on the Chevy van. It was, in his mind, a totally forgettable vehicle. The colors were bland, the ladder attached to the rear right back door was bent but functional, and the front bumper was dented in three places. The front and side windows were tinted, and the inside was roomy once the passenger seat was removed. It was perfect.
The engine revved slightly as he turn over the ignition key. Pulling out of the parking lot onto Hampton Avenue, his eyes darted to the rear view mirror for a last look-see. The only thing he saw was one of those bottom feeders pushing a shopping cart, crossing over the bridge he had just left behind. He was tall and black man, wearing baggy yellow shorts, red knee socks and a faded blue basketball jersey. Wearing a Walkman, the man appeared to be mouthing the words to some song while frantically waving his hands in the air.
“He must be dancing,” he muttered. There were half-full trash bags hanging from the sides of the cart, and there was a pennant attached to it, fluttering in the hot breeze. This place sure has its share of weirdo’s, he thought.
Soon he was on the freeway, merging with the rest of the traffic heading toward downtown Dallas. Exiting on Commerce Street, he connected with Main and drove to the Elm Street Garage. It was one of many multistory parking garages in the central business district. Driving into the garage, he took a ticket from the automatic dispenser. The lot was dark and only a little cooler than the street. The first two tiers were always full this time of day. After passing through three half-empty tiers, he reached the sixth floor, one from the top, and eased the van into a space next to a white Lexus with gold trim. Opening the door, he got out of the van carefully, and looked around. No one was visible. After making sure all the doors on the van were locked, he fumbled through his keys until he found the one to the Lexus. Unlocking the door, he slid behind the steering wheel, started it up, and looked around one more time. Still no one was around. Backing out of the parking space, he put the Lexus in drive and headed down the lower tiers toward the exit. Pulling up to the pay booth, he handed the parking attendant his ticket.
“That’ll be five bucks,” the teller said dryly. With receipt in hand, he exited the garage and turned left onto Elm Street, toward the West End, and past the Texas Schoolbook Depository. It was a busy day for all the conspiracy entrepreneurs, as they were busy selling their own versions of the Kennedy Assassination to small clusters of out-of-towners with cameras. Soon he was on the Stemmons Freeway, heading northwest where it intersected with the Dallas Tollway. In a minute he was on the Tollway heading north. There was one more stop to make before heading home. It was a clear morning, with a bright blue sky and a hot sun. There was only one cloud in that sky, and it was a deep black one that hung over a two-toned burgundy and cream Chevy van.