"Rattlesnake!" Jeremy cried pointing a chubby finger at the small kitchen of the farm house. He had the seriousness down to an art. His voice, that of an eight-year old being given a tetanus shot; his body language, that of an eight-year old being taunted by a wild boar; his facial expression, that of an eight-year old who'd just seen the ghost of Jesse James. His papa could see it all somehow through the corner of his eye as he stared straight ahead at the radio playing his favorite station: the one that regularly featured Bob Wills on the fiddle.
"Ain't no rattlesnake in the kitchen Jeremy," he stated as fact with a voice that always sounded like a labored yawn while never once changing eye position to indulge the boy in any way. Jeremy Senior was an oil man now. Well-off from making a strike right there in his back pasture, south of Tulsa on 177th Street - which at the time was little more than a twin-rutted wagon trail desperately in need of modernization. The family of two were the very first this side of the city to enjoy the luxury of a home that had electricity. Maybe someday soon, he'd buy Jeremy Junior his own personal radio for his pig-sty of a room there in the back to give his mind something to do besides conjure up fibs to tell.
Jeremy stuffed fistfuls of his unruly, clay-red hair into his tiny round ears as makeshift plugs and pouted puffs of boredom at his forty-year old papa and his boring taste in entertainment. Having those peculiar, bright contraptions called "bulbs" in every room now - and even that talking wooden box called "radio" - was fun at first; but now, the technology was starting to lose its magic, and he was starting to get those restless legs again. Tomorrow, thank the good Lord, they would finally be spending the day in town.
The Model-A sputtered, rattled, and bounced over the bumpy lane of dry dirt and flattened grass. It may as well have been Jeremy's birthday today. He talked non-stop with a scratchy, high-pitched voice that jittered every time the vehicle jittered. The two looked identical dress-wise: Fading blue overalls, off-white long-sleeved shirts, and scuffed-up brown leather boots. Not exactly the stuff of wealth, but Jeremy Senior liked it that way. First and foremost he was a farmer, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him; oil man second; rich man last. Of course, to Jeremy Junior, that was boring. To be able to get away from that poultry-scented farm for any reason was candy to his little soul.
As he smiled at the young Tulsa skyline in the distance - at the rectangular, inverted copper-green crown atop its tallest skyscraper - the cool wind from the increased speed hitting the back of his throat was refreshing. "Papa, why do they call our road a street?" he asked, noticing the contrast between theirs and the smooth, paved one they were on.
"Well, son, I reckon that's because they're figuring on Tulsa growing one of these days. Oil's big business in these parts. And one of these days..." He paused and directed an inconspicuous sigh at the line of vehicles ahead of them. "One of these days...hopefully not in my lifetime...Tulsa's gonna be right there in our backyard."
"No foolin'?" Jeremy asked with a grin as rich as his papa was.
The air smelled of cigars, peanuts, perfume, and exhaust. A trolley jingled slowly by, loaded with a mixture of yammering bodies. The hodgepodge of drivers and pedestrians was the same: A dynamic conglomeration of business suits, dresses, overalls, and cowboy hats. Lightbulbs were everywhere, flashing in multiple colors even in the daylight. Jeremy wore a wide-eyed smiley face, bright as the lights in its own right. Now that they had electricity at home, maybe he could talk papa into putting up a Christmas tree this year.
"You'll make yourself dizzy!" Jeremy Senior warned as the boy stood in the chilled shade of one of the tall buildings looking up. They were in the shopping district now. Always Junior's favorite part of their scarce trips to town. His papa drilled him with all the usual rules while handing him a roll of coins: "Don't talk to strangers"; "address ladies as 'Ma'am' and men as 'Sir'"; "don't let anyone but sales clerks see your money"; "be back here at this spot not one minute later than two o'clock and wait for me"; "most important, use that thing between your eyes!"
"Okay Papa!" he exclaimed, darting off so fast the words hung in the air after he'd already disappeared into the crowd.
"That'll be one shiny penny, young man," the woman at the register in the candy shop said with a warm grin as she pinched his doll-like cheek.
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, gladly parting with one of the wheat pennies in exchange for that bulging brown-paper sack containing his motherlode of saltwater taffy imported from the east coast.
He giggled at how stuck-together his green, pink, and purple teeth were while walking around the outside of the shop forcing as much of the chewy, delectable delight as he could cram in his mouth at once down into his stomach. He deliberated on where to wander next. Perhaps the theater, where one of those silent movies was about to start? "Nah, what if it's a Western?" he thought. "I know! The toy store, silly me!" he decided with a smack of the hand to his mildly-sunburned forehead. He'd been wanting to start a collection of those "Matchbox" cars for a while now. He gathered up the muscular momentum to take off in a sprint, but it softened into jelly.
"Jeremy." He'd overheard someone say the name in an otherwise quiet conversation between three men standing at the side of the shop towards the back. He eased himself around to face them. None of the three were looking his way, so they must have been talking about a different Jeremy. He crept around the other side of the building and stood in back of it, listening to affirm that it wasn't he they were speaking about.
All three voices were low and distinct. One was deep like a cavern; one was deep like a tuba; the other, high and raspy like a bobcat.
"There you are, Boys: Five hundred bucks a piece," the one with the cavern voice said. Jeremy's jaw lowered, and he was tempted to peek around the corner. Though he knew his papa had way more money than that, he'd never actually laid eyes on five hundred dollars in cash - all in one hand - before.
"Alrighty, Cliff! We'll get it done!" the one with the tuba voice lightly boomed in clear elation over the cash.
"Now wait just a minute!" the one with the bobcat voice said. "You still haven't told us how to find this fella!"
"That's easy, trust me!" the cavern voice answered. "Just head south on 177th Street and look for the only farm house with lights on after dark. You do the job and do it right you'll each get ten percent of the man's worth in addition to your five hundred."
The tuba and bobcat voices mumbled at each other with different ideas about how to carry out this "job", finally settling on a plan: "So we shut the power off. He panics and runs outside to see what the deal is. We shoot. Haha! I love it! Easiest target in the world!"
The cavern voice rumbled out a low laugh. "He's gonna pay for denying me what's rightfully mine."
"Ate too many sweets again, did you?" Jeremy Senior asked with a whispering laugh as the flickering skyline shrank behind them. Junior sat with his head down and his arms and legs tightened to complete motionlessness. "Well, we'll be home soon and you can hit the hay and rest it off." His papa reached behind the seat and patted at the hefty tied bag he'd thrown in right before they left town and grinned. "I gotcha something! I'll let you open it first thing in the morning, when you're feeling better!" Junior wasn't responding to any of it. He had that facial expression of an eight-year old who'd just seen the ghost of Jesse James again. But this time, there was no underlying fib to go with it.
"I thought you were feeling sick," papa said as a question after they'd gotten home. Now Junior was full of energy, but a kind he'd never observed before. As the dwindling sunlight splashed into the living room from him peeling back the curtain to peek outside every few seconds, he wondered. "You expecting company?" He thought for a moment and laughed. "What, did you meet a cute little girl while we were in town? Huh? Is that it?" he asked, tickling the top of his head. Junior had yet to say a single word this whole evening.
Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to make him wait to open that present. He tugged at Junior's shirt sleeve to divert his attention away from that window. "Come see what I got you! That oughta put some color back in your face!" Jeremy followed like a snail to his room as papa toted the sack. He kneeled down in front of the vacant outlet in the oak-paneled wall, expecting the boy to start jumping up and down when he got the hint about what was behind that crackling beige paper. Finally, he had to untie the sack himself. It was that radio. Jeremy Junior's own personal radio. But even when he plugged it in for him and tuned it to something besides Bob Wills, the boy showed no reaction.
Papa sat on the short, iron-railed bed beside him. "What's eating at you, son?"
Junior stared through the bedroom's door, across the dim wood-floored living room, into the dusk-darkened curtain again. Neither of them could see much of anything now, so papa got up and went about his customary evening ritual of switching on the lights. After the final bulb - the porch light - had been flipped on, he sat down beside Junior again. The boy was shaking.
"Jeremy, please tell me! What is it?"
"If I tell you, you'll never believe me," he said in a stuttered mumble so opposite of his tone on the way to town earlier.
Papa hissed out a ventful of frustration. Junior had a point there. And even despite all of this convincing drama, he couldn't be certain if anything he was about to say was fact or fiction. He reckoned that if it was fact, the boy would get around to telling him sooner or later anyway. So he closed the door and left for the living room to go flop down in his favorite cushioned chair and tuned the radio to his fiddle music.
Half an hour later - boots tapping heavily to whiny beats coming through the large paper-cone speaker, and dreamy, half-shut eyes lost in space, fully-absorbed in the moment - silence fell. Pitch-black, deathly silence. Both radios sat lifeless. Useless wooden boxes. The bulbs began cooling down, like tiny dead bodies hanging from the ceiling. They transformed into faint, round glowing ghosts as the final embers of electrical current faded into oblivion. The only hint of life in this forsaken tomb of a house now was the ruffling curtain as a stout breeze came through the open window behind it.
Jeremy Senior panicked. He knew this was bound to happen sooner or later. It didn't take much to cause a power outage this early into the age of electricity. Any little storm could do it, but it wasn't storming. In fact, as he ran out the door, it was brighter outside in the moon-filled night time sky than in the house.
Bright enough that he could see the shine in Junior's unruly red hair as he approached him. He was clutching the single giant lever to the breaker on the backside of the house with both hands. Almost dangling in the air from it due to the far reach it had required from such a little person to pull it down.
"This time you've gone too far, Jeremy!" papa yelled. "I'm not one for whoopings, but you can only push your luck with me so much before..."
Junior's eyes grew wide and circular. He let go of the lever and joined papa in watching the headlights crawl down the street toward their home. Any time one saw headlights in these parts, it could only mean company. Papa pushed Junior out of the way and reached for the lever to turn the power back on.
"Papa, no!" he cried. "Get in the house, bolt the door, and grab your shotgun!" he whispered in tears. Jeremy Senior stood in place like a rabbit, though the headlights weren't shining in his whitening face yet. Junior took his hand, tugging fiercely until he began to budge.
They were ducked down to the side of the curtain beside the locked door. The barrel of the cocked and loaded rifle was on standby, ready for trouble. Junior had prayed for forgiveness of all his fibs, and that his plan would work. He lost several inches in chest size as the headlights eased past the house and kept on going, into the night.
"What was that all about?" papa demanded as they continued to whisper.
Junior whimpered. "I knew you wouldn't believe me, but there's some men who want to kill you. I overheard them in town today." Papa started to roll his eyes, then the boy continued. "One of them's named Cliff. He paid them to come out here and do it."
Jeremy Senior patted him on the back and gave him a hug. Cliff used to own this land. Now that Jeremy had struck oil, he was jealous and felt cheated, even though the land no longer belonged to him. It all made sense now.
As he pondered with apprehension over what to do, he gave Junior a confident wink and shook his hand. "Good job, Son! I'm very proud of you!"