Asphodel was a graceful black woman with a voice as warm and as soothing as melted caramel. She was in her late twenties and she had been worried about her child, Isaiah.
Isaiah was in third grade.
Over the last few weeks her normally buoyant chatter-box had become moody and withdrawn. Rather than being eager to go to school or hang out with his friends he had been clingy and only wanted to stay inside and play video games.
And then, just like that, Isaiah had snapped out of it.
"Did you meet anybody special in the park?" Asphodel asked. She was just encountering the leading clouds of teenaged reticence and she did not like it.
"Nope." Isaiah said. Not short. Just no information.
"I was just wondering. You seem a little bit perkier than normal and I was wondering if you met somebody who cheered you up." Asphodel said.
"Nope." Isaiah said. "I am happy because Billy and Jeff's dad got beat up today and I got to watch it."
That did not sound like her son, although in retrospect he had been playing the most violent video games she allowed in the house.
"How is that again?" Asphodel asked.
"Billy and Jeff were throwing rocks at me in the park." Isaiah said. "Their dad was telling them to throw bigger rocks. He was telling them 'You gotta use bigger rocks. Niggers can't feel them little pebbles you are throwing."
Billy and Jeff were twins in the other third grade class. They were as mean as snakes and it was clear that the apples had not fallen far from the tree.
This was the first that Asphodel had heard about them throwing stones at her child. Her first instinct was to call the school and then the cops, but she knew that she would never hear the full story if she cut off the flow of words.
"Then what happened?" Asphodel asked.
"This really old, white guy walked up to the dad and told him to make Billy and Jeff stop." Isaiah said. "Then the old man beat up Billy's dad."
Cletus was looking for his kid in the park where Asphodel said he liked to play.
Cletus saw a man sitting in the driver's seat of a late model Mustang. The door was open and he was yelling at some kids who were throwing stones at something he could not see.
He assumed they were throwing stones at a stray dog who was cornered in one of the pieces of playground equipment. As he got closer he saw it wasn't a dog and the man wasn't hollaring at them to stop.
Cletus had been doing a lot of cement work that week. His hair was a crusty gray from the powder. Even though he was only forty, two-and-a-half decades of working in the sun had given his face the complexion of an seventy-five year old.
Cletus kept his cool. He demanded that the man call off his kids.
The man, a dandy in his early thirties, told Cletus, "Fuck-off, old man." and continued to record the stoning on his smartphone.
Cletus grabbed the dandy by the scruff of the neck and his first blow hit him immediately below his diaphragm. The solid "TWACK" pulled the attention of the twins from their target.
Cement workers are like Olympic powerlifters who work out for eight hours a day. You can tell when you have met one when you shake his hand. It is like squeezing a brick held edgewise.
How strong is a typical cement worker? Cletus had recently won a bet by tossing 90 conventional cinder blocks up, onto the third level of the scoffolding in 60 seconds. The foreman had been pissed because many of them had chipped edges after the demonstration.
The dandy tried to knee Cletus in the groin. Cletus deflected it easily. He had been in bar fights throughout his late-teens and all through his twenties. For many years he averaged one brutal parkinglot brawl a week. There were no Marquesse of Queensberry rules in dark corners of parking lots.
The dandy's next swing was aimed for Cletus's eyes and he had balled up his car keys in his fist with several of the keys poking out, between his fingers.
That is when Cletus lost his temper.
The beating only lasted about thirty seconds.
Zeke watched the entire beat-down. When it was over, Zeke picked up the key ring and dropped them down the closest storm drain. Then he powered down the dandy's smartphone and pocketed it. Not surprisingly, the screen was cracked. Very cracked.
"Nice job, 'old man.' " was all Zeke said to Cletus as Billy's dad was slumped over on the pavement, spitting out teeth and trying to breath.
Looking over at the twins, Zeke said "If you ever bully that kid again" pointing over at Isaiah, "I will hear about it and I will come back break the rest of the bones in your dad's body."
Cletus said they should probably leave town. Zeke nodded his agreement.
Cletus never got to say a word to his kid.
Aphodel had a friend who worked the Emergency Room. She had a pretty good idea what 'ruptured spleen and liver' meant but had to log into Wikipedia to learn what "compound supraortibal and simple zygomatic fractures", "spiral fractures, phalanges, right hand, multiple" and "floating ribs" were. Further, she was not able to visualize how Billy's dad had received "multiple facial and ocular lacerations and embedded glass shards, many".
Had she seen the Mustang she would have understood. In Cletus's mind the dandy's use of his keys as a weapon freed Cletus to use the edge of the Mustang's roof and its windshield in the same way. The windshield was shattered and caved inward.