Little Johnny Bulldog meets me at the gas station and he's carrying a gun. Not just any gun. It's this huge, AR-15, militia rifle like I shot in the army all the time. But it's all tricked out and it's painted purple. Never seen a AR-15 painted purple before. Like with skulls and stuff on it. In Nashville you have to hide what you're carrying. It's pretty ridiculous. But Mississippi, you can be out in the open in some places. It's got a sweet stand and the expensive sight on it.
He kind of waves it up in the air and around everywhere and laughs. I laugh too.
It had been ten years between him being in prison and then me serving a few years in the army and I hadn’t seen him. Little Johnny Bulldog. He got that nickname in high school cos he yapped all the time and also because he was hairy like in awkward places and he would kind of shed everywhere like a bulldog.
When I saw him last he was a little scrawny scrappy guy. He got picked up on that gun charge in high school and then he had disappeared for little bit and we didn't know much about him. Then I left for Iraq and that didn't go so well. It had all changed though. When Billy Ratner sent me that message saying Johnny had a business and I needed to come back to Jackson to maybe invest in the laundromat and the car dealerships I didn’t even believe it.
Little Johnny Bulldog? I said.
Hell yeah, Billy said.
Apparently everything had turned around for him. He told me how much money he was making and I thought, that little kid Johnny, big timing it, that little piece of shit we used to beat the snot out of? I couldn’t hardly believe it and I had to see it for myself. Billy said, behind the movies, do you remember when he bled from his teeth and everything and he shit himself and how bad he smelled. But it’s all changed now, Billy said, he and I have investments and it’s golden, it’s golden down here. He's so good with us now. He's so good. I'm going down to Mississippi tonight to see him but I've been investing with him for a while and I've already turned some stacks with him.
I don't even have to call Johnny though, because a few minutes later he calls me. The number's unlisted but when I pick up the phone, there's that voice, like we're ten years old again. He sounds great. I ask him how things are and he's all, I've got this business, it's looking good, come down here and see but I'm looking for people to cut in, I want to give you a cut. Billy's coming too, we're going to take a look over everything.
Jackie and I were in bed and she said, Go down and see him, make a little money for us, take care of it.
I said, what do you think about Johnny? She knew him in school too. And she said, some dogs beg for a leash. I knew she was probably right about that. She said, bring it all back with you.
So I kissed her on the head and got in my pickup and I drove to Jackson and I got there late that night.
He came to the gas station and the style was on. I mean out of this world. Like I said, the purple AR-15. He must not care about the gun charge anymore because he doesn't make any attempt to hide that thing that you can see from a mile away. Getting your gun painted like that, it's not cheap. He’s driving a blue Ford Raptor with lifts and shocks like you could race it even, he’s got muscles now, hair all cleaned up, jewelry everywhere. Did not recognize the guy. But the voice is the same. I kind of look at my F150 and it needs new trim and I'm like, damn, I think about pulling him down from that tree with him screaming and all his broken teeth a little bit.
I said, Johnny.
And he pretends not to recognize me, just for a second, waving that AR-15 around, before he says: My man, Stevie-O. So then I know we're good. He still admires me. Like when we were in school I was kind of the big guy with the girls and the truck and stuff and he was pretty short and fat so I was like a big brother I guess. I mean that's kids. It's been a few years. Nobody remembers that kind of stuff.
He says, let me give you a ride to my place. We get in the truck. It's so sweet inside, leather and chrome everything and smells like a god damned car dealership, I mean never have I seen a car so clean in my life, not a spot anywhere. He passes me something to smoke and we light up together. He turns on music, he's got the satellite radio, speakers everywhere, he turns on some bass and it's so loud it's like being stabbed in the heart.
I said, good to see you again, brother. Heard you’re having much success down here.
You know, you know, he says and laughs. Finally made it. We're driving and smoking and it feels good with the windows open.
I heard you’ve got some big time investments, I said.
Here and there, he says. He tells me about the cars he's been selling and how he got investments going like a businessman.
You gonna take me out to let me see how Little Johnny Bulldog's been living? I ask.
When I say that name he's driving but he kind of closes his eyes for a second and his teeth kind of bite down hard like he's grinding them. He kind of sucks in air too like he's thinking hard or gasping. It lasts for a few seconds. It kind of scares me for a second. But then he snaps right out of it. You know it, brother, he says, and he gives me a big smile and a high five.
We’re driving by the reservoir now, north of Jackson, definitely outside the city. He’s wearing a white track suit and two diamond earrings. He’s big, almost fat, but I get the feeling he could bench press me. We used to say he had this dirty ring around his neck that looked like he showered in Saran Wrap but I don't think he showered at all, back then. Now his teeth are so white my eyes almost hurt.
I said, Are things good? Want to get in on a good thing.
No it’s really good, he says. I’m working all the time, my mind never stops. I love the high end stuff, he says. But it's just how I am. He sure does if that truck's any indication. The reservoir slopes beside us about a hundred feet down.
I said, is your place more out in the country? Looking at the road and how we’re getting away from things.
Oh, yeah. He says. I keep my big place out here. That's the only way to make money. Out in the country where nobody knows your business. And we've got to take care of Billy, too. He's down here.
Got to go out in the country to get those country bitches, I say.
Ain't nothing like Mississippi country ass, he says. Yours for the taking down here. You get rich enough, they just let you do whatever you want.
I reach over to grab my beer and I notice he's got a black plastic ring just showing below his ankle. He doesn't see that I see it so I don't say anything. It doesn't bother me, actually. I knew plenty of guys like that after Iraq for one reason or another, that had to have a tracker. He doesn't see that I saw it.
Things sound like they're just about perfect for you, I say. I never could get work after Iraq except odd jobs. I made it two weeks at the plastics plant. Union did me dirty.
He laughs. I laugh. The truck kicks up dust from the brown dirt road.
There's no people around and we're way off the highway and it's dark, getting late, no moon out. He's got the purple AR-15 still in the backseat.
The back of the truck has a huge bed with a cover. All of the sudden I hear THUMP TH-THUMP and Billy just kind of laughs. Shocks, he says. Just got new shocks. I'll show you when we get where we're going.
THUMP THUMP again and a pounding noise like a dog yelping. I mean the truck looks solid but you never know about maintenance issues like under the hood. But he owns a car dealership so it can't be too bad.
I look at the back of the truck through the window. Something definitely rattling around in there.
Why don't you stop and let me take a look, I said, I was an Army mechanic.
Don't you bother, brother, he says. I'm here to take you on vacation, not put you to work.
I said, where are we gonna meet Billy at out here?
He's still got the purple AR-15 in the backseat.
THUMP THUMP and I hear a kind of moan and a voice I recognize too. Billy.
I reach for the AR-15 to try to get to it first but he's got big muscles, little Johnny Bulldog, he's bigger than he ever was and he just kind of grinds my hand down against the median of the truck and I hear some bones popping in it, a lot of pain. I can't move my hand and maybe my arm too.
I say, you don't gotta do this. You don't gotta do this.
My other hand still works. So I hit him in the mouth with it hard and blood runs down his nose. I smell his blood. I'm fifteen years old again and I'm pounding him behind the movie theater and he's shitting his pants and crying. It was the first time I drew blood from anybody. But now he's laughing.
He grabs the AR 15 now and he clubs me over the head with it so hard that it spins me back against that tinted window and the glass breaks.
I start thinking about ten year old Johnny Bulldog and I realize, we screwed up, he didn't forget, he didn't forget any of it. This is Johnny Bulldog hitting us back.
Billy is screaming, from the trunk, you got to get out, we got to get out. But I don't have time for that or to do anything because the last thing I see is Johnny Bulldog driving that Ford Raptor right over the side of the bluff and we're in the air falling down a hundred feet into the ravine.
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