When the Sheriff found Larry Laramont that August dawn, Larry was asleep against a tree, an old 0.22 rifle across his lap. Pink covered Larry’s hands. In scattered spots that sprinkled his overalls the color had become darker, no longer neon bright. And the pink stained Larry’s face where the camouflage make-up had rubbed off. Walking up to the boy, the Sheriff noticed Larry had grown tufts of sideburns that were sparse and weak. Then he spotted the minor pink explosion against the maple opposite Larry. He would comment in his report, a report he did not want to write, that it “took fifteen bullets before the nearsighted perpetrator destroyed the evidence.” The Sheriff owned a poetic side, so had it not been official he might have written, “Not every first love is recalled fondly.”
On low moraines and drained swamps they built the farms. Soon the fields of corn and soy undulated across vast expanses. Then they constructed the town. Wallaceville, Illinois. It rose out of a small valley cut by the creek. From those first days, the Laramonts had been residents. That was over one hundred and fifty years ago. The town never grew to more than five hundred residents. It was a stop along a westbound wagon trail then. When Larry forever changed the Laramont legacy, Wallaceville was barely holding at two hundred and fifty inhabitants. The Dobson family made it two hundred and fifty-three that summer.
In town, that handful of original families held rough but respected reputations. So Larry was given a healthy amount of legal latitude on more than one occasion, his school record being one such example. He was just ten and already the height of a man when his mother died. Over those next two years his attendance at school was sporadic. But because he was a Laramont, nobody said a thing. Later, at Pickem County Middle School, he discovered wrestling and his participation in class, though never outstanding, became more regular.
Larry had two reputations in high school. The first was for wrestling. As a freshman it was clear he was no random success. That year he narrowly defeated the previous state champion, a senior, at finals in Springfield. After that he became a town hero and his second reputation, for two borrowed cars, several large fights, and a small Fourth of July fire that threatened a neighbor’s barn, was easy to forgive—boyhood shenanigans. When he met Jessica Dobson, two state titles later, he had already reached town legend status for wrestling and boyhood shenanigans, both. That was the summer before his senior year.
There were exactly four entrances into Wallaceville, each marked with elaborate antique signage carved out of limestone in the shape of covered wagons. Wagon wheels adorned either side of the signs. They were mounted to spin and when Larry needed to cut weight he ran from sign to sign. He would spin a wheel and run across town before the previous spin had stopped. Larry wanted to cut four pounds the day he first noticed Jessica Dobson. He only cut two.
“Who is that?” Larry asked. He stopped, forgetting his run entire, at a relative’s house across the street.
Wilma Randolph, his mother’s cousin by marriage, was observing and sipping sun tea with her neighbor, a three hundred pound near shut-in named Tamara. Wilma replied, “Them is my new neighbors, Datsuns or somethin’.” Larry looked at Wilma, she explained, “Calls hisself Mayor. S’pose to run the new plant”
“Don’t see how you could be a mayor if you ain’t been a’lected. And you can’t run a new plant until it’s done bein’ built,” offered Tamara.
“The girl? Who is the girl?”
“Somebody got hisself a crush,” Wilma playfully slapped Tamara. Tamara shook with laughter, “Hope she like wrastling.” The women grinned.
Larry watched Jessica move. This girl, t-shirt clad, pegged jeans, soft leather sandals, long auburn hair, pale and beautiful, a girl unlike any he had seen. Jessica dropped a box on the way to the house. The Dobson dog stopped behind her, wagging its tail. Larry instinctively moved to help. The women laughed harder. He tried to put hands in the pockets of pocket-less shorts.
“Go on, give her a hand Larry,” said the fat woman.
Jessica picked up the box and went into the house. “They don’t need no help,” he mumbled.
The girl returned. From across the street he saw the dampened bangs, and he ogled her as Jessica lifted the front of her shirt from her breasts, allowing cool air in, dropping the shirt again, where it adhered to her chest. Tiny buds showed beneath the fabric, enough to noticeably excite a seventeen-year-old boy wearing loose shorts.
“Yep, that’s a adequate girlfriend for young men,” laughed Wilma.
The fat woman heaved uncontrollably, half-laugh, half-gasp for oxygen, “You need someplace to put that thing. I got plenty of space.” Tamara waved hands up and down her ample physique.
Larry had exactly the place to put it, but it was at home behind the barn. Red in the face, he quickly ran there and fantasized about Jessica. All the lascivious excitement of youth dropped onto the grass in tiny beads and desire turned to satisfaction. But desire soon returned and Larry resolved to meet this girl. Somehow, in the middle of summer, they would have to meet.
Mayor, unhappily, would notice Larry long before Jessica ever did. Five weeks after moving to town, Mayor mentioned Larry to a local contractor working on the plant. Larry had just run by. It was 3:00. According to Mayor’s estimation, it was the same time Larry had run along that stretch of highway for the past three weeks.
“Who is that boy?” asked Mayor.
“That’s Larry’s son,” replied the man
“What’s his name?”
“What’s the boy’s name, I mean?”
“What’s your name?”
“Larry, but I’m no relation.”
Mayor grimaced, “You know that boy runs by nearly every time my family steps outside of our house. We’re in the front yard, he comes running up and down the sidewalk. If we’re in the backyard, he comes up the alleyway.”
“So, ain’t a crime to jog. Besides he’s conditioning.”
“For what can a boy run all day long?”
“Wrastling. You seen his name. It’s on damn near every sign into town.”
The two men turned and looked at the wagon sign on the adjacent highway. Among other things, it read:
State Champions: 2003, 2004, 2005 Wrestling Larry Laramont.
That night Mayor picked Jessica up from her new friend’s house. The friend lived in the country on a lonely gravel drive. Mayor hated these “country bumpkin” roads. One of the perks of his job was a new car. At any speed, the small rocks dinged and dented the car, depreciating the value of the perk with each pockmark. So when Mayor and Jessica slid into the driveway, he was already in a foul mood.
That was just after 6:00. Jessica, Larry knew, should have been home by 3:30, 4:00 at the latest. This 6:00 business disoriented him. All of his reconnaissance could be void if her schedule became erratic. If he could not rely on her to return from practice at a consistent hour, how could she be relied on for anything else? What if something was going on behind his back?
Jessica’s absence radically altered Larry’s routine that day.
Since the moment he laid eyes on her, his days had been structured around Jessica’s comings and goings. The peak Jessica hours were between 3:30 and 5:00. It was then that she was home alone. It was then that Jessica would slip out of her loose track clothing and into a bikini, sunbathing in the afternoons, or into cutoff jeans and a tank top, reading a book on the porch. It was then that Larry would fill his mind with fantasies.
The fantasies took two forms. The first were often ethical, even romantic, in nature. But Larry found them impractical and unlikely.
Running by, Jessica drops something, perhaps a moving box, perhaps a grocery bag, but most often a small child. Oh no! The child stops breathing, for it was sucking on a piece of candy and the candy has become lodged in its throat. Jessica, in a screamless panic, seeks help. Here comes Larry, just running, cutting weight, nothing more. Larry takes the position learned via video in health class. The child, writhing for breath, responds to the deft and strong hands, as Larry boldly performs the Heimlich maneuver to success. Phone numbers are exchanged. Week’s end, Jessica and Larry, boyfriend and girlfriend.
Larry reserved the second fantasy for regular, often daily, visits behind the barn. These provoked guilt, so he controlled them as much as he could, out of respect for Jessica.
On a typical night, Larry’s run would have ended with dinner, between 4:30 and 5:00, at Wilma’s house. Because Jessica was not yet home, that evening he only planned to pause briefly at Wilma’s to say he would be running longer.
“Instead of running yourself skinny, why ain’t you just go and talk to the girl?” Wilma said.
“That pretty one you leaving me for,” goofed Tamara.
“You in love, boy. A’mit it.”
He tried to change the subject. “I got another scholarship offer the other day.”
“No time to study when you spend it all studyin’ that little girl right there,” Wilma nodded toward the Dobson’s. Larry looked up. They were home. She was home. Mayor was there. Jessica was there. He stared. Long legs. Loose track shorts.
The women laughed, “You in love, boy. A’mit it.”
Frustrated, bold, exhausted Larry walked across the street. The run had begun at 2:50 and did not end until that minute. Without realizing it, on the hottest day of the year Larry had run 21 miles, his longest ever, and all of it through a town that was less than half a mile wide. Mayor walked into the house. Jessica rummaged through the car for something lost. Larry stood outside of the Dobson fence, determined to discuss her sudden inconsistency. He had lost ten pounds of fluid during his extended run. Jessica bent further into the car. A behind the barn fantasy intermingled with fury at her tardiness. Then, without notice, the air left the world. Larry fell to the ground.
On a strange bed in a strange house he woke up. It was not much after 7:00. A dim light on in the room. This was a girl’s room with posters of clean-shaven men Larry did not recognize. He noticed a scent, and then another. A potpourri of perfumed items, shampoos, candles, fragrances he had never smelled before.
A school picture of Jessica on the nightstand. Senses returned. Larry touched the picture for reference, and then stuffed it beneath his shirt. Footsteps. Mayor entered the room. Jessica stood behind him, twirling her hair, never looking at Larry directly.
“You okay boy?” asked Mayor without concern.
“I’d say your obsession got the better of you.”
“I got to go.”
“No son. You got to feel better first and then we got to talk.”
Larry tried to sit up, “Sir?”
“You’re going to promise me you won’t run by this house again.”
Instinctive sarcasm, “Not much town to run in.” He sat up a little more.
“Jessica is a good kid. We don’t need muscled-up stalkers bothering her, understood?”
The disorientation that had clouded Larry’s mind lifted. He had not considered two things. First, he recognized that stern-faced Mayor did not like him. This made no sense. Every father of every daughter in town would gladly call Larry son-in-law if given the chance. And second, Larry acknowledged that the fall, the heat, and the heavenly scent of a young woman’s room had conspired to loosen his bladder. Larry had wet himself in Jessica’s bed.
Mayor continued, “I just can’t have boys, athlete or no, obsessing over my little one.”
Escape with the evidence.
“I know it’s nothing illegal, but I just don’t think it’s right, a boy obsessing after a girl that way.”
In one motion, Larry lifts the sheets and comforter from the bed, hops to the floor, and bolts out of the room. Down the stairs, nobody notices the wetness. Out of the house, nobody follows. All are stunned. Nobody follows. At home, two washings later, Larry would sleep with the evidence for all of the coming school year, confident Jessica never suspected a thing.
School started and Larry was king again. His name adorned school walls when wrestling season rolled around. The only seeming hitch to his season was a dramatic drop in weight class that concerned the coach, but not Larry. Although they never spoke, Larry secretly dedicated every match to Jessica. With pen ink and a small knife, he tattooed a “J” on the inside of his right biceps, convinced it would give him added strength. He would watch the “J” flex when he went behind the barn. Larry was king.
State came and went and Larry was victorious at the lower weight class. Four state championships meant a scholarship to pretty much anywhere he wanted. During and after the season he traveled from college to college on recruiting trips, everyone wanted him. He entertained many of them, knowing all along he would go wherever Jessica went. Twice on these trips he was offered sex, then he thought of Jessica’s likely disappointment and politely declined. By February he discovered Jessica’s post-graduation plans and made arrangements for a scholarship at the same college. Surprising her with the news would have to come at just the right moment.
By the time the Sheriff found Larry in the park, Jessica had already lived in Wallaceville for a year. Larry never exchanged one direct word with her during that year. Larry could have asked her to any number of events. He had been given a rust-colored Firebird with a big block engine. She would have liked riding to prom in that, but she never attended any dances. Or he might have invited her to the senior parties that streamed through the summer after graduation. Those were weekend events. On the weekends, Jessica was never around. So Larry patiently suffered, confident that college would finally bring them together.
Then in August she appeared, magical, full of charm, a strange last effort at assimilation into a community she would soon leave. Larry noticed her immediately.
Ten, Twenty-five, and then fifty students at the party. The field of corn grew in high stalks and surrounded three sides of the group. Cars parked haphazardly on the weak patch of lawn. A row of trees marked a nearby low area, where wetlands never converted to farm. At the edge of the field a fire pit, bonfire blazing in the sweaty air. Everyone of note was there, even a favorite teacher stopped over.
Larry was still the king, although his reign was waning. He absorbed large doses of bourbon from a bottle and spat it into the fire. Flames burst horizontally and the alcohol burned out on the opposite grass. He stopped spitting and drinking when Jessica walked out of the dark and into the firelight.
They were two then by the fire, the others had gathered around a truck bed where large speakers played and everyone cheered and danced. Larry full of drunken charm. Jessica cautious, yet graceful.
“You the new girl, right?” asked Larry, staring at the fire like some gypsy about to read a fortune.
Everything she said sounded like a nervous question. “Yes?” she replied with a smile, he was getting somewhere. She spoke again, “You were at my house last year? When you passed out from running too much?”
Alcoholic logic provoked confidence, “Maybe I passed out because of you.” It came out wrong. Things became tense. She looked toward the group.
“I mean, because you’re so pretty. No other girls around here like you.”
“Thanks?” She smiled. Fire high now, higher than before. Larry offers a drink, she sips from the bottle. Then a statement, her first. “I feel like I don’t know anybody here.”
“Tough to move afore your senior year. When you come back next summer you should come to more of these little soirees.”
Then the crushing blow that triggered the tirade, “Oh, my boyfriend and I are planning on getting an apartment together after this first year. He wants to go straight through the summers. My dad won’t let us get married until we’re done with school.”
Larry never heard a word after “boyfriend.” He looked out at the cornfields in inebriated sorrow. At that moment Jessica died to him. After several awkward seconds of bitter silence, she crept into the dark and away from Larry. When he looked up she was gone. Steady pulls from the bottle did not help. She was gone. Due to some random, unforeseen folly, she was gone. The fabric of the future had been rent.
Before the rampage, Larry spoke, briefly, to one last person. Ryan McCormick, a little guy who wrestled five weight-classes beneath Larry, stepped to the fire. Pale yellow firelight on their faces. Shit-faced and simple, Ryan bellowed, “You gonna horde that or share?”
Larry handed him the bottle, almost empty. “I might just quit wrestling.”
Ryan reacted, “What the hell you goin’ do that for? You a machine, a Warrior machine.”
The bottle in Larry’s hands now, “You still got that old deuce-deuce up in your car.”
“Betty? Locked and loaded. Never know when a squirrel might need a nut. Plus, my mom won’t let me have no guns in the house.”
Out of the trunk Ryan withdrew a 0.22-caliber rifle, purchased at a yard sale. The box of shells was stolen. Drunken Larry pointed the gun at the moon, “Is she true?”
“Truer ‘n shit,” said Ryan, closing the trunk door on his Ford Escort.
“I be the judge and jury of that.” Larry pointed the gun at the fire. They were 100 yards out. He aimed at a small hole through the wall of people and fired. Sparks flew out of the bonfire. People yelled. Larry smiled sadly. A young man scorned has little legitimacy.
Larry takes the gun and the shells and throws them into the tight backseat of his Camaro, Warrior singlet and headgear from State still there. No rules against drunken driving exist and nobody cares when he pulls away from the group and drives, headlights off. He knows Jessica has left. Given a car for graduation, a VW convertible, red. It is nowhere to be seen. He will find her and attend to the situation.
The pink spray paint he borrows from his father’s shed. Meant to mark pavement, it will do. The green, black, and brown face paint are from Halloweens long past. He covers his face in camouflage, splotchy, without pattern. He fashions a shoulder strap out of dark leather belts for Sunday outfits and wraps the gun around his shoulder. He is ready.
Nobody can stop him, because he runs. He leaves his house, gun across back, carrying a bag, contents include eight cans fluorescent pink spray paint, one pint Early Times, one Nalgene bottle of water for dehydration. By Mayor’s plant, nearly complete now, he runs, laying low in a ditch as a car passes. It is late, later than 3 A.M. Jessica is a girl, he reasons, girls have curfews. He runs by the wagon train sign and spins the wheel. This will be fast and fierce he tells himself.
From a tree in Wilma’s yard he can see into the Dobson’s home, into Jessica’s bedroom. He loads and aims the gun at windows. Mayor, boom. Mrs. Mayor, boom. Dog, boom. Jessica, boom. He does not fire. Instead, he climbs down and snakes across the road in zigzag pattern, leaping and rolling commando style, stopping next to Jessica’s car. The spray paint comes out. He paints. On either side and on the hood he paints, pausing at regular intervals, pink spray bleeding into pink spray, splotching his clothes. And then finishes his task.
Retreat, not for fear, but for space. No good angle to get all four. Ducking behind a garden retaining wall, he fires twice. Air blows out of Jessica’s right side tires. Nothing stirs and he leaps a picket fence, landing one foot in dog excrement. He ignores the foot and fires again, six times. More air escapes from more tires and the driver’s side windows crumble. The boy wipes perspiration from his face. Camouflage comes off on his hand. He is not done.
This act is private, maybe just the family will know. Maybe Mayor will wake up early, find the car—nobody has stirred yet in the house—and fix everything. There must be more. Something grand must come. He waits and thinks.
He climbs Wilma’s maple again. Eight shots in a town with two hundred fifty-three people. Somebody must have heard. The bourbon burns his dry mouth. Twenty minutes pass and the bourbon is nearly gone. No movement anywhere. He is in the clear. He no longer waits.
The idea. One last thing, a public record of this tragedy is needed, something Mayor cannot hide. For the first time, he thinks of the family name, Laramont. It means something to him now. A one hundred fifty year reputation must be kept intact; a transient teenage girl cannot destroy a legacy. He must destroy the girl. There is only one way. The people must know a Laramont has been cuckolded.
The boy crisscrosses town. Running through the humid night wall, drunken tears streak the camouflage. Footsteps pound the pavement. He does not hide any longer. He stops four times, exhausting six of the spray paint cans. And now there are four monuments, a broadcast to the world of Jessica’s evil. His will be done.
The Sheriff was the first to notice Larry’s monuments, though he was called to town for a different reason. Someone had heard multiple gunshots at the park; a picnic table with shelter, a cracked asphalt basketball court, and a swing set. Probably just kids, but Wallaceville had never had a problem of this nature in his two years at the county level. It was worth a look.
Larry would have been crushed by the Sheriff’s passive reaction at his work. The planned statement of shock and awe so powerful to a drunken boy, registered only, “Hmm,” from the Sheriff. And, “These folks ain’t gonna like that much.”
He drove into town and found the boy against a dying pin oak. He surveyed the scene and noticed the pink explosions against the maple bark twenty yards off. Streaks marked the boy’s face and the Sheriff could see there had been some serious sorrow that night. The entrance to town was a likely testament to that sorrow.
“Upsy-daisy, son,” he poked Larry with a baton. “Let’s get you home. You got some cleanin’ up to do.” The boy grunted and stood with the Sheriff’s help.
At the Laramont’s, the Sheriff offered near condolences, “Looks like this one got hisself a broken heart.”
Larry, Senior replied, “Well, we all been there.”
“It’s the truth. That’s a lesson we, all of us, endure.”
At 5 A.M., about the time the Sheriff drove into town, Mayor Dobson woke and prepared for work. Two pieces of toast and a cup of coffee later, he walked to the garage and pulled his S.U.V. into the alley. The late summer light was dim on the horizon. He noted nothing unusual until he reached the drive into the construction site. Two cars, one a Mercedes, the other a BMW, already there. A meeting. Chicago investors. He had forgotten. Exactly fifteen minutes to run home and change clothes before several other high-end foreign cars would appear. He turned around in a hurry.
Three hundred yards toward home, the sun cresting the horizon behind him, exposing the world before him, Mayor slammed on his brakes. Anti-lock. They pumped to a halt along the gravel shoulder. There could be no doubt. Two hundred fifty-three people, only one Jessica Dobson. He read every word on the wagon wheel entrance to himself:
Welcome to Wallaceville, Illinois
Home of Wagon Train Dayz
State Champions: 2003, 2004, 2005 Wrestling Larry Laramont
State Semi-Finalists: 1987 Girls Cross-Country Stacy Johnston
And across the etched “Welcome to Wallaceville, Illinois,” defacing, obvious, covering three feet of the eight-foot by ten-foot sign, Mayor read the pink bleeding spray painted sentence:
JESSICA DOBSON IS A WHORE