WHITE GUYS IN A CHECKOUT LINE

By Randy Reynolds

I grabbed an energy drink from the cooler and got in line behind a man holding a fifty pound sack of Ol’ Roy on his shoulder.

He turned toward me and said, “This may take a while. She’s got two baskets piled high and you and me are paying for it.”  With a nod of his head he indicated the overweight elderly woman in front of him wearing workout pants, baggy sweatshirt, and bedroom slippers.  She had two buggies piled high with groceries.

“I bet you anything she’ll try to pay with food stamps,” he said.  “People like that get my goat.”

He looked at me intently, as if expecting an answer, but I don’t talk food stamps with white guys in line at a Walmart in the South. Like the coward that I was, I shrugged and said, “I know what you mean.”

Not even trying to keep his voice down, he said, “Laying around in bed all day, too lazy to work, sponging off the government, living large on my tax money.”

The old woman, still unloading her second buggy, looked up and said, “They’re not called food stamps anymore. It’s SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”

“Well, it’s food stamps to me,” said the man with the dog food. “And you’re paying for it with my tax money.”

I wanted to look away, but the rheumy eyes of the old woman held my attention.

“It’s not your business, sir, but just so you know, we’re not getting rich on food stamps.  I have eight kids and two adults besides me under my roof and we get four dollars a day per person.  That’s a dollar thirty-three per meal per person.”   She pointed to his bag of dog food.  “You can’t hardly even feed a dog for that.”

“Well, there’s plenty of jobs out there.  You should go get one, and try working for a living for a change.” 

“I have a job, sir.  I work at a nursing home, Lexington House.  I worked eleven to seven last night and I’ll be there again tonight.”

“What about the other adults in your house?  Why don’t they have jobs?”

“Because one of ‘em has A.L.S., Lou Gehrig’s disease, and barely gets around any more and the other is nine months pregnant.  Not that it’s any of your business.”

The dog food man turned to me and rolled his eyes.

I said, “What kind’a dog you got?”

“Black lab.”

“Labs have a sweet disposition,” I said.

“Oh, yes.  Smart, too.”  He dropped the dog food onto the conveyer.

Ahead of us, the cashier gave the old woman a receipt and helped place bags of food in the two buggies. I heard the old woman say, “M’am, will you watch this basket while I take the other one to the car?”

The cashier said, “Sure.”

“Just get it out of my way,” said the dog food man, pushing the closest buggy forward with his foot.

The buggy hit the old woman in the thigh.  “I intend to, sir, just give me a moment.”

“This is ridiculous!” said the man.  “Can’t we get this line going?”

“I don’t want this drink anyway,” I said, setting the energy drink on the conveyer belt behind the dog food.  “Excuse me, sir.”  I squeezed past him and said, “Ma’m, I’ll take one of those baskets for you.”

The old woman said, “God bless you, sir. I hate to be such a nuisance, but…”

“No problem,” I said.  “We all need a little help now and then.”

As I placed her groceries into a van with a wheelchair rack on back, she tried to give me a dollar. “No, ma’m, that’s not necessary. Put it away.”

“Well, I don’t know how to thank you.”

“No thanks necessary.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Randy.”

“Well, Randy, I’m Jeanelle,” she said.  “I hope God will bless you for helping out an old woman.”

I smiled. “I’m sure He will,  ma'm.”

The man with the bag of Ol’ Roy came down our lane in the parking lot. I half-expected him to stop and inspect Miz Jeannelle’s grocery bags to make sure that her purchases were in line with what he thought a SNAP recipient should eat.  I nodded and gave a little half-wave to acknowledge him, the kind of thing Southerners do even if they’ve only met a person once, casually, in the check-out line at Walmart. But he looked right through me, scowling, and walked on by. 


















WHEN NEWS IS COMEDY

by Randy Reynolds

Like Wolfman Jack eating a popsicle while his voice was going out over the airwaves in American Graffitti, I pre-recorded my voice in advance of the Randy Reynolds Show each morning in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s on Oldies 104. Unlike the Wolfman, though, I didn’t sit there eating popsicles while my pre-recorded voice was entertaining the audience. I used the recording as a second entity on the show—the cartridge-tape and I talked back and forth to each other.

I came in early each day, usually around 2 a.m., to write and record I.B.’s bits in a wild voice with a Cajun accent. By showtime—6 a.m.—I’d have downed the first two of the ten pots of Community Coffee I would make each day.  (Most of it got cold in the cup as I got distracted by my show prep, so I threw out more than I drank, hence the ten POTS of coffee per day, 250 or more pots per month.  My boss, Mark Jones, may have paid for more coffee service than any business of equal size in the world; but, hey, it got him a TOTALLY-LOCAL crazy-funny most-talked-about highly-rated workaholic morning show that was easy to sell except for the occasional boycott or cancellation so he bore the expense gracefully. )


I.B. talked about real things--expose's that I got from tipsters and whistle blowers from all walks of life and from every level of government in Rapides Parish, especially my many close friends in the police departments of Alexandria, Pineville, and surrounding municipalities. Practically all my friends back then were cops. For reasons sometimes selfless, sometimes self-serving, they and my other sources flooded me with tips, many of which—the ones I could verify--ended up on the air.
I spent almost all my waking hours for several years verifying-- making sure that every word out of I.B.’s mouth was true, hence the 10 pots of coffee per day and the nights of writing till midnight and going to work two hours later to record our expose's as humorous skits.  

I started each report with a helicopter sound-effect, under the pretense that I.B. was my "traffic reporter" even though he never actually got around to doing any traffic reports. Then came I.B.'s trademark yell, "Aaaaiiiyyyiiieee! " and we went into our schtick and exposed another boondoggle… 5 days per week, 51 weeks per year, (52 weeks one year.)

A few examples: 
When the mayor says, "Alcohol has never touched my lips", I.B. says, "That's because he drinks it through a straw." And when the water pumps malfunction at a city water tower, I.B. jokes about it, says the tower is filled with Miller Lite and the mayor must be going there to drink because there's straws all over the ground. The mayor and city council then bestow legitimacy upon I.B. by passing (and publishing in the newspaper) an official resolution denying this cartoon character's "accusation" that the mayor has been drinking Miller Lite from the water tower with a straw!

Newspaper coverage of the city council's fight with I.B. causes our audience shares to grow. Advertising revenues for the station increase dramatically. And the phone starts ringing off the hook with people calling in news tips for I.B. Flyin'. Some are jokes, like the "bit" that started it all--a water-tower filled with Miller Lite. Other tips concern real issues that don't get reported by the timid local news media --or "news meteors" as I.B. calls them.

When four hard-partying off-duty Alexandria, Louisiana, cops on a beer-run drive their pickup onto a sidewalk and get out to beat up a small time drug user and then charge him with carjacking, assault, attempted murder of a police officer, and about 7 other things, I.B. has a field day! All the other "news meteors" buy the official story that an unarmed young man tried to carjack a vehicle with four cops in it. I.B.'s laughter (and commonsense) fuel so much public outrage that it's the police, not the accused carjacker, who get bound over for trial on assault charges. When the guilty verdict comes in, the whole courtroom explodes with applause, shouts and prayers. That young man would likely be in Angola State Penitentiary today if I.B. hadn't refused to bite on the official story.

In the I.B. voice, I announce 75 reasons why a 21 year old Leesville, Louisiana, murder suspect held for three years without a grand jury hearing could not have committed the gruesome crime he is accused of. The young man (Joey Hilton) is released from jail on Christmas Eve after a deal between I.B. and the District Attorney. The deal is simply for I.B. to "lay off" the D.A., (that is, stop making jokes about him,) and the D.A. will release Joey Hilton. (I.B. may have been the first cartoon character ever to make a deal with a real D.A. ) On Christmas Eve, 1998, after three years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit, Hilton is released. He and his mom come to the station and I interview them live on the morning show. It's the most emotional show I've ever been involved in...the kind of stuff 60 Minutes and 20/20 are famous for. What Joey and his mom really want is to meet I.B. Flyin' and thank him in person, but I tell them he's up in the chopper and will have to call them later.

When a state senator's daughter uses his office to run a pyramid scheme, when city government cuts and sells the timber on state-owned property, when a mayor's wife brokers a secret deal for the city to buy some church property at ten times the going rate, when the police chief's sons commit crimes, when the city council buys a fire engine that's too big to fit inside the fire station, when the city dams up a National Scenic Waterway to increase property values in a favored subdivision, when a city crew hooks up sewage pipes to a drinking-water main, when a mayor gets caught having sex in his office, and another mayor spies on his police department, and a cop's drug dog dies in a hot patrol car while the peace officer is having some afternoon delight, and two police horses get electrocuted because their riders take a coffee break and leave the horses tied to a metal light pole in a thunderstorm, when the school board and city spend millions on unnecessary "studies"...

I.B. blows the whistle on them. It sounds like comedy, but it's all true. As I.B. demonstrates every morning, News IS Comedy in Central Louisiana.

The types of things that I.B. fought with ridicule and laughter are happening in your town, too. But they aren't a part of anybody's official record. The kinds of things I.B. exposed usually go unrevealed and unpunished because, in most places, there is no investigative reporting, no public ombudsman to connect the dots. But, for a while, in Central Louisiana, there was.
---------------------------------------------
There aren't many locally-owned stations or papers left, since Congress removed limits on how much media one company can own.  





...........

THE MAYBERRY SYNDROME

by Randy Reynolds
This night’s revival meeting in Hartwell, Georgia, had been, like all H.R. Appling services, a spectacle to behold. After giving it everything he had, preaching, shouting, dancing, praying, singing, playing his accordian, healing the sick, forcing people to the altar, H.R. (my maternal grandfather), was exhausted and hungry now driving home to LavoniaGeorgia.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse," he said.

His son-in-law-Gene Reynolds, an aspiring minister who had worked half the day selling insurance before making the trip to Hartwell with H.R., said, “They got a place up here in Royston we can stop at, if I remember correctly. Used to be on my coffee route."

“A pound of bologna, some crackers, cheese, and buttermilk would hit the spot right now,” said H.R.

“Amen!” said Gene.

H.R. and Gene’s conversations were usually about one of two things:  religion or baseball.

“I see where the Sox beat the A’s last night,” said Gene.

H.R.’s favorite player in this year of 1950 was his second cousin, Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox, a 20 year major-leaguer whose career was winding down.  “Did Luke play?”

“Got a hit and an r.b.i.,” said Gene.

“They got him playing first base again?”

“Nope. Pinch hit.”

“Getting twenty five thousand dollars this year and they hardly ever play him,” said H.R.

Gene whistled. “I don’t even know what I would do with twenty five thousand dollars.”

“If you go into the ministry, you ain’t never gonna have to worry about it. Ain’t no preacher never gonna make that kind of money,” said H.R. 

They passed a sign that said ‘WELCOME TO ROYSTON HOME OF BASEBALL'S IMMORTAL TY COBB.’  A second sign a little further on read, 'Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark.'

“Ty Cobb’s so rich he’s been giving away hospitals all over this part of Georgia,” said Gene. 

“Wish he was paying tithes at my church,” said H.R.

The red lights of two police cars and an ambulance lit up the gas pumps and parking area of the old store as they approached, so H.R. parked his new Buick off to the side, away from the pumps.

“Great day in the morning!  Must have been an accident!” said Gene.

H.R. shielded his eyes with one hand.  “Well, let’s see if the place is still open. I’ve got to have me some nourishment.”

The old man behind the counter saw these two guys come in with their shined shoes, Sunday suits, bow ties and hats and apparently thought they were detectives from the police department.  “I done told the other officers everything I know.  It was justified,” he said.

H.R.’s voice carried the ring of authority.  “Well, tell it again. From the start.”

The old man pointed to the gas pumps and said, “That Buick with the New Jersey license plate out there? Nigger was driving it.  Pulled in here for some gas.  After dark.”

H.R. and Gene looked toward the commotion at the pumps.  

“Another customer, old boy that comes in here all the time, he seen it was a nigger in Royston after dark and went out there and shot him. Pow! Right in the head.”

“Who’s those people they’re puttin’ in the police car?” asked H.R.

“Woman and three little kids that was in the car with him.”

“He was killed in front of his family?” asked H.R.

“Well, yeah! He was in the city limits after dark!  And look at that fancy car, would ya? Prob’ly stole it.”

More than sixty years later, Gene told me, “Little place over there, they didn’t have professional ball or anything. All they had was good revivals and trials. I just happened to go to a few of those trials to kill time on a slow afternoon, you know.”

He attended the short trial of the white man accused of killing the black man caught in Royston after sundown. The defendant said, “Some robberies had been happening in Royston. I thought he musta' been the one that done ‘em.”

He was found not guilty.

Gene sat through a trial involving a white-on-white killing—a wealthy farmer shot his son-in-law in the back with a shotgun and admitted it.

The verdict was not guilty.

A third trial he witnessed was about a black-on-black killing.  An unarmed man killed his attacker in a fight and plead self-defense.  

The verdict was guilty and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Gene said, “In those little old country towns like that they had some strange things that happened some times. You know, a lot of prejudice involved there.” 

The people who lived in these small American towns often reflect on what an idyllic childhood they had. I've heard older whites say that their childhood spent in places called Covington, Gainesville, Bainbridge, Royston, Monroe, Alexandria, McComb, Hammond, New Iberia, and Bogalusa, was like growing up in Mayberry.  Which makes me think that Mayberry (as an avatar for the happy place we grew up in when America was "great") wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

While the white drunkard Otis was sleeping one off in an unlocked cell from which he was free to come and go as he pleased, I imagine a black guy caught drinking, gambling, loitering, or walking while black was handcuffed in the adjoining cell where Andy and Barney worked him over with a rubber hose.

Mayberry tolerated Ernest T. Bass when he threw rocks at houses, but I suspect the black guy that did the same was convicted of a felony and given 10-20 years at hard labor.

When a bully stole Opie's lunch money, he was taught to fight back; but a black kid who fought back was sent to juvie.

When Charlene Darling flirted with a white guy, the Darlings broke out the washboard, jug, and banjo and had a hoedown.  When she flirted with a black guy they had a lynching.

When a rich white guy pulled up to the filling station in a fancy car, Gomer called him "sir" and cleaned his windshield, checked under the hood, and aired up his tires.  When a rich black traveler pulled up in a similar car after dark, Goober shot him behind the left ear with a .22.

I know so many people who grew up in these towns that they fondly reminisce about and conflate with Mayberry, little realizing that Mayberry--like a significant portion of America's history--was a fairy tale.

_____________________________
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HOW GRADY GOT RELIGION

by Randy Reynolds 

(This is how family history gets passed down…)

I found out about the murderer in our family, Grady Reynolds, 75 years after it happened. 

I recall that it was one of those lazy Sunday afternoons in the 1970s that I spent in Great-grandmother Chesty Reynolds’ front room where her bed was.  My grandfather Bonnell Reynolds and I were on the naugahyde sofa, my great-uncle Kermit was straddling a canebacked chair backward and “Grandmother” was in her bed just inside the front door.  A farmer’s wife accustomed to small quarters, she had always used the front room for her bedroom.  She would live to a robust 96 years of age, but at the time that she and these two sons of hers told me this story she was still in her eighties, a picture of health, propped up against several pillows, chenille spread pulled tight beneath her, a pretty quilt neatly folded over her legs. 

That was 43 years ago, and the events I learned about that day happened in 1897, so this story has been in the family for 118 years.  My dad Gene Reynolds, who is 84, had never heard it despite spending countless hours with his grandpa Allen Reynolds on the front porch out at the farm in late-night talks about family history.  Even though Allen was the murderer’s first cousin, Gene didn’t remember him ever mentioning Grady going to the gallows.

“I never even heard the name,” said Gene.

“And you didn’t know you had a third cousin that killed a storekeeper and pretended he bought the store?” I asked.

 “How do you know all this?” he asked.

“Papa Bonnell and Kermit and Grandmother told me about it back in the ‘70s,” I said. 

“Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure.  I got the name wrong.  I remembered it as Gary, but I found out today it was Grady—Reuben Grady Reynolds, and I just thought you could give me some details.”

“Well, I never heard of any Reuben Grady Reynolds,” said Gene.



 
After finishing Sunday “dinner” at my Papa Bonnell’s house that day in the early 1970s, I moved over to the couch to watch a football game on TV with Uncle Bob, who didn’t much enjoy the games, but always watched the halftime scores to see if the teams he had bet on were covering the point spread.

Uncle Strick was sitting in the armchair nearest the TV but had no interest whatsoever in the game.  He was holding my infant daughter Kristi, rubbing the top of her head, saying, “Ain’t the top of their heads soft?”

My young wife Sherry was helping Mama Maude and Aunt Willeen clear the table while my radical Aunt Katrina sat there at the table, pretty as you please, as if she had the same rights as a man to sit there and not do dishes, but nobody begrudged her the usurpation because she kept a conversation going from the table to the couch to the kitchen. She also kept a cigarette going, as did her husband Bob, from his end of the couch, and Strick near the TV.  The room was a haze of after-dinner smoke that bothered no one because it was always like that when the family got together.

Papa finished his meal by sopping the remainder of the brown gravy from his plate with a piece of chocolate cake (his favorite flavor combination) and then put a big dip of CC Snuff beneath his bottom lip before settling into his plush green swivel chair.

When the halftime recap was over Uncle Bob rounded up Katrina and Kim, and they said their goodbyes and headed home to the Sardis community.

Once everything was spic and span in the kitchen, Willeen told Strick to give the baby back to Sherry, and they collected their kids Sharon and Phil, and took off for their little home on a hill near River Bend.

Sherry took our two little girls into Papa's back yard where we lived in the “Little House” which was sort like a shotgun house in the slums, only smaller.  But we loved it because it was close to Mama Maude and Papa’s and put us in the orbit of all those uncles and aunts.

At this time, maybe an hour after “dinner,” Papa made his move.  He spit into the can beside his chair and rearranged the snuff beneath his bottom lip and said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind riding out to Mom’s this afternoon. If I put a little juice in your car, do you think you could ride me out there? That is, if you don't have anything else to do which I don't mind if you do. I don’t want to put you out any.”

“Sure,” I said.  “But keep your money.”

“No, no, I insist,” he said.

There was many a day back then when my pockets were as empty as the tank of my powder blue 1968 Mustang, so after an appropriate amount of back and forth, I took his dollar. 

Visiting the Great-Grandmother that I had always known as simply “Grandmother,” was not my favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  It was nice to see her and Kermit, the son who lived with her the last 30 years of her life, but I really didn’t care all that much about the back and forth between them and my Papa Bonnell over Who married Whom and  in what yearWho died when did you hear about Cousin Whomever or Aunt Whoozitz; or where is So-and-So buried?  It was all I could do to keep my eyes open.

Somehow Uncle Baylous Reynolds’ name came up and they started talking about how great it was that his son, our cousin Grady, got religion before he went to the gallows and I perked up.

Grandmother was just a young girl and not a Reynolds yet when Grady was hanged over in Jefferson, Georgia, just a few miles from The Glade, but she remembered it well.  “We knew all about it. People came from far and near.”

Papa Bonnell, who wasn’t even born till 1907, obviously knew the story. “It was a double hanging.  Him and Bud Brooks.”

Kermit, born in 1924, seemed to know as much as either of them.  “They built a 16 foot fence around the gallows so that nobody could see the actual hanging.”

“Just Grady and Bud’s families and the sheriff and a few others,” said Grandmother.  “Everybody else was there just to watch them walk from the courthouse to the fence.”

“What always got me,” said Papa Bonnell, “Was how come they bought each of them a new suit to be hanged in?  Why waste all that money?”

“Well, but I bet they looked nice at their funeral,” said Grandmother.

Kermit said gently, “Mama, do you know what happens to the human body when a person is hanged?”

Papa frowned.  “Uh, let’s not get into that.”

Grandmother showed her displeasure by uttering her strongest epithet:  “Well, I never!”

Kermit said, “They buried ‘em side by side over at the Reynolds-Barton Cemetery in Lula.”

“I ain’t been to that cemetery in years,” said Papa. “I need to ride over there and have a look one of these days.”

“Ain’t got no name or date on their headstone,” said Kermit.  “All it says is something like “Hanged, buried side by side…They robbed a grocery store and…a man was killed.”

“They was cousins,” said Grandmother.   “Grady’s mother was a Brooks and it was her nephew Bud Brooks that helped Grady with the murder.”

“Now, let’s get the story straight,” said Bonnell.  “Bud didn’t help with the murder.  He just helped split open the body after Grady shot the man.”

“I think it was Grady that split him open with the ax,” said Kermit.  “Right down the center of his back. All Bud did was help take out some of his insides and  fill up the corpse with rocks and bind it up so he’d sink when they threw him in the Oconee River.”

“That was after Grady shot him in the back of the head,” said Bonnell.

“Well, I don’t know if we need to talk about all that,” said Grandmother, briefly focusing her watery blue eyes on me.

My newsman’s instinct felt the story ending too soon, so I piped up:  “Why’d they kill him?”

“He was a wealthy store owner, just a young man, really, without any family hereabouts,” said Grandmother.  “And they heard he kept a lot of money hid in his store.  Didn’t trust the banks.”

“Grady was dirt poor,” said Kermit.  “Cuttin’ railroad ties for a living, bootlegging on the side, him and Bud both.”

Papa liked to keep a story on track.  “They had a contract to make railroad ties in the woods over near Bellton, when they come up with this scheme to kill the storekeeper.”

Kermit said, “Grady’s the one that made him an offer on the store and  lured him out of town by saying they needed to go get the money at Harmony Grove Bank.  And, oh yeah, they could do some bird-hunting the next morning.   The storekeep was an avid bird hunter.”

Papa added, “Bud wadn’t even there, I don’t think, when Grady shot the man in the back of the head.”

Kermit continued, “After they threw the corpse in the river, they went back to the store and tried to find the hidden money, but didn’t find any.  So they kept the store open, told folks that they had bought it.”

“Made a little money selling merchandise,” said Papa.

“Now, what I heard,” said Grandmother, “Was that Grady also let his family come in there and take foodstuff off the shelves.  Gave ‘em everything they could eat or carry off.  He was done divorced at that time, left his wife when he became a drunk, but he fed ‘em well for a few days there.”

“He got arrested because he didn’t know about the horse,” said Papa.  “Seems like the storekeep, I think his name was Hunt, had a stud horse that he kept in his stable on some property he owned about a mile away from the store.  This horse was his pride and joy and he talked about it a lot.  Then somebody went in there one day and saw the horse hadn’t been fed or cared for in days, no provisions had been made for it,  and that’s when everybody got suspicious that there must have been foul play.”

“Grady got arrested first and they made him talk,” said Kermit.  “He told them where to look to find the body weighted down in the river and it was still there, right where he said.  He blamed the killing on Bud and said he only helped move the body.”

“My, my, my,” said Grandmother, as if thinking about it for the first time.

“They caught Bud a few days later up in South Carolina somewhere and brought him back on the train,” said Papa.  

“A lynch mob gathered at the train station when they come back, but the leader said they was gonna let Bud and Grady go to trial. Wadn’t go’n do nothing that night,” said Grandmother.

“Grady got religion while he was in jail and he confessed everything and they was both sentenced to hang,” said Kermit. “Then Bud demanded a new trial because he said liquor made him do it, and he wasn’t accountable.  That was in March. They hanged ‘em that December.”

“It was in all the papers, Jackson County and Hall County both,” said Grandmother.  “Grady grew up here in The Glade, you know.”

“What they did was pure evil,” said Papa.  “But they got prayed through there at the end.”

Grandmother said, “Grady’s wife, her name was Martha—they called her Mattie—didn’t go see him in jail till the very last day.”

Kermit added, “But his mama and sisters kept a vigil with him at the jailhouse for over a week before the big day.  Wore their selves out praying, singing and reading the Bible with him.”

“He got religion,” Grandmother said.  “He was ready to meet his maker and made a right nice little speech for his last words.  The paper said he urged people not to drink and told them they should read the Bible and pray and go to church and they wouldn’t end up where he was, but now he was content to pay for his crime because he knew for sure he was saved.”

Papa Bonnell, who believed most of the Bible and some of the Book of Mormon, added the type of thought that he seemed to constantly be toying with:  “The killers had a chance to get right with God and confess Jesus Christ as their savior, so I believe they went to heaven.  But what about the victim, Mr. Hunt?  Nobody gave him no time to pray. He was shot in the back of the head and then split open with an ax.  What if he wadn’t already in good shape with the Lord?  Are we supposed to think the killers went to heaven and the victim went to Hell?”

The fire in the space heater hissed.  The clock on the wall ticked.  And we avoided each other’s gaze for a while, each of us lost in our own thoughts.