I coughed. One of the hard, hacking coughs I was used to now. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little nervous to tell the story again.”
The man lit a cigarette. I was glad we had decided to conduct the interview outside the hospital, on a bench in the garden. The wind rustled my hair, soothing my burning skin.
“It’s okay,” the man said, “You aren’t the first person I’ve interviewed who was nervous.”
“It’s just that it was so long ago.”
He nodded and moved his notebook around, pen in one hand, cigarette in the other. “Lots of people I’ve interviewed found it easiest if you just dive right in.”
I took a deep breath and nodded. “You have to understand a few things about my father first. This event deeply disturbed him.
He had weekly therapy sessions for years, right up until the day he died, in fact.”
John nodded and motioned for me to continue, scribbling at his notebook.
“It happened when I was fifteen; my sixteenth birthday was right around the corner. We ran a general store, just on the outskirts of town. I know you’ve been out there already.
It’s still in my name actually.
I haven’t been in there since that day. It was terrible. I was minding the cash register so I saw it all go down. This-this man came in, walked around a bit.
We were well known for our baits so I assumed he was another fisherman. He wasn’t dressed oddly or anything and I had never seen him before. See, Monsel was, at one time, a fairly large town.
So anyway, he came up and got in line and then, when he got to the front, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun-“ I paused, unsure of how to continue.
“Please continue,” John said.
“Yes, sorry. It’s difficult to explain the next part.
So now he’s holding the gun out and in his other hand he had a bag. He told everyone to get to the ground. There is only one other person in the store but this man just won’t.
The robber, with the gun, he tells him again to get to the ground. This time, the man started walking towards him. He says, and I’ll never forget this, ‘son, do you really want to do this?’
At this point the robber has the gun pointed at the man walking towards him. Then, I noticed my father walking out of the back room with a baseball bat in his hands.
The man with the gun had his finger on the trigger, but he was lowering it, like he wasn’t going to use it,
and that’s the exact moment that Dad got behind him and hit him over the head with the bat. He slumped forward, fell to his knees. He fired the gun once, but it just lodged into the floor.
I guess the adrenaline combined with the shot made my father hit him three more times. They were hard hits too. I could hear the crunch of bones.
Within seconds he died and my father knew he had to turn himself in.”
At this point we lapse into a bout of silence, considering what had just been said. I cough again and hit my chest, trying to dislodge some of the phlegm in my lungs.
John looks at his watch, and then up at me. “This is the same story you told the police and the press back in ’55 when it happened, correct?”
“You said there was a detail that was missed that you wanted to clear up before you...” He glanced at my hospital bracelet.
I looked away from him, across the parched grass and sighed. “There is more to the story, something my father and I covered up but his mistake has to be remembered.”
He settles back in his chair, ready to note it down.
“The story I told you is the one I gave to the police, and then again to the press. My father and I agreed on it together. He was jailed for vigilante justice, a fair trial and everything.
The problem is that the robber got away.”
John looks up, confusion written on his face.
“Well you see, my father got the wrong guy. He accidentally killed the other man, not the robber. The robber had his gun lowered and my father couldn’t see who was holding it.
He picked one, the wrong one, and the robber dropped the gun and fled. All we had to do was plant the gun and say he was the robber.”