Death of a Friend:
This is our last Christmas together.
Life separates us. Those who Know Best decide that I
belong in a military school. And so follows a miserable succession
of bugle-blowing prisons, grim reveille-ridden summer camps. I have
a new home too. But it doesn’t count. Home is where my friend is,
and there I never go.
And there she remains, puttering around the kitchen.
Alone with Queenie. Then alone. ("Buddy dear," she writes in her
wild hard-to-read script, "yesterday Jim Macy’s horse kicked Queenie
bad. Be thankful she didn’t feel much. I wrapped her in a Fine
Linen sheet and rode her in the buggy down to Simpson’s pasture
where she can be with all her Bones…"). For a few Novembers she
continues to bake her fruitcakes single-handed; not as many, but
some: and, of course, she always sends me "the best of the batch."
Also, in every letter she encloses a dime wadded in toilet paper"
"See a picture show and write me
the story." But gradually in her letters she tends to confuse me
with her other friend, the
Buddy who died in the 1880’s; more and
more thirteenth are not the only days she stays in bed: a morning
arrives in November, a leafless birdless coming of winter morning,
when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: "Oh my, it’s fruitcake
And when that happens, I know it. A message saying
so merely confirms a piece of news some secret vein had already
received, severing from me an irreplaceable part of myself, letting
it loose like a kite on a broken string. That is why, walking across
a school campus on this particular December morning, I keep
searching the sky. As if I expected to see, rather like hearts, a
lost pair of kites hurrying toward heaven.
Cold Blood, 1965
Death of Richard Eugene Hickock:
Dewey had watched them die, for he had been among
the twenty-odd witnesses invited to the ceremony. He had never
attended an execution, and when on the midnight past he entered the
cold warehouse, the scenery had surprised him: he had anticipated a
setting of suitable dignity, not this bleakly lighted cavern
clustered with lumber and other debris. But the gallows itself,
with two pale nooses attached to a crossbeam, was imposing enough;
and so, in an unexpected style, was the hangman, who cast a long
shadow from his perch on the platform at the top of the wooden
instrument’s thirteen steps. The hangman, an anonymous, leathery
gentleman who had been imported from Missouri for the event, for
which he was paid six hundred dollars, was attired in an aged
double-breasted pin-striped suit overly commodious for the narrow figure inside
it – the coat came nearly to his knees; and on his head he wore a
cowboy hat which, when first bought, had perhaps been a bright
green, but was now a weathered, sweat-stained oddity.
Also, Dewey found the self-consciously casual
conversation of his fellow witnesses, as the stood awaiting the
start of what one witness termed "festivities," disconcerting.
"What I heard was, they was gonna let them draw
straws to see who dropped first. Or flip a coin. But Smith says why
not do it alphabetically. Guess ‘cause S comes after H. Ha!"
"Read in the paper, afternoon paper, what they
ordered for their last meal? Ordered the same menu. Shrimp. French
fries. Garlic bread. Ice cream and strawberries and whipped cream.
Understand Smith didn’t touch his much."
"That Hickock’s got a sense of humor. They was
telling me how, about an hour ago, one of the guards says to him, 'This must be the longest night of your life,' And Hickock, he
laughs and says, 'No. The shortest.' "
"Did you hear about Hickock’s eyes? He left them to
an eye doctor. Soon as they cut him down, this doctor’s gonna yank
out his eyes and stick them in somebody else’s head. Can say I’d want
to be that somebody. I’s feel peculiar with them eyes in my head."
"Christ! Is that
All the windows down! My new Chevy. Christ!"
The sudden rain rapped the high warehouse rood. The
sound not unlike the rat-a-tat-tat of parade drums, heralded
Hickock’s arrival. Accompanied by six guards and a prayer-murmuring
chaplain, he entered the death place handcuffed and wearing an ugly
harness of leather straps that bound his arms to his torso.
the foot of the gallows the warden read to him the official order of
execution, a two-page document; and as the warden read, Hickock’s
eyes, enfeebled by half a decade of cell shadows roamed the little
audience until, not seeing what he sought, asked the nearest guard,
in a whisper, if any member of the Clutter family was present. When
he was told no, the prisoner seemed disappointed, as though he
thought the protocol surrounding this ritual of vengeance was not
being properly observed.
As is customary, the warden, having finished his
recitation, asked the condemned man whether he had any last
statement to make. Hickock nodded. " I just want to say I hold no
hard feelings. You people are sending me to a better world than this
ever was"; then as if to emphasize the point , he shook hands with
the four men mainly responsible for his capture and conviction, all
of whom had requested permission to attend the executions: K.B.I
Agents Roy Church, Clarence Duntz, Harold Nye, and Dewey himself.
"Nice to see you," Hickock said with his most charming smile; it was
as if he were greeting guests at his own funeral.
hangman coughed – impatiently lifted his cowboy hat and settled it
again, a gesture somehow reminiscent of a turkey buzzard huffing,
the smoothing its neck feathers – and Hickock, nudged by an
attendant, mounted the scaffold steps. "The Lord giveth, the Lord
taketh away. Blessed is the name of the Lord," and the chaplain
intoned, as the rain sound accelerated, as the noose was fitted, and
as a delicate black mask was tied around the prisoner’s eyes, "May
the Lord have mercy on your soul." The trap door opened, and Hickock
hung for all to see a full twenty minutes before the prison doctor
at last said, "I pronounce this man dead." A hearse, its blazing
headlights beaded with rain, drove into the warehouse, and the body,
placed on a litter and shrouded under a blanket, was carried to the
hearse and out into the night.
Staring after it, Roy Church shook his head: "I
never would have believed he had the guts. To take it like he did. I
had him tagged a coward."
The man to whom he spoke, another detective, said,
"Aw, Roy. The guy was a punk. A mean bastard, he deserved it."
Church, with thoughtful eyes, continued to shake his head.