The edge of the metal separates black rubber from the rim. A hammer strikes. Tools work the tire and pull it from the rim.
“It ain’t as fun as killing Japs, is it?”
A man puffs a cigar. The smoke rolls from his mouth.
“No, it ain’t,” the tire changer says with a grin. “But at least tires don’t shoot back.”
His body is lean. A rolled sleeve reveals a Marine anchor on his arm. His hair is short. His face unlined with youth.
“Did you really celebrate your birthday at Guadal Canal?” the man with the cigar asks.
“My sweet sixteen,” the tire changer replies.
The cigar man laughs and shakes his head.
“You got some balls, kid. How many of them Japs did you kill?”
The tire changer’s smile disappears.
“What’s wrong, kid? You look like I slapped you.”
The tire changer pauses for a moment. Then, he speaks.
“There’s no real pleasure in killing a man. I did what I had to do, and I didn’t keep count.”
The cigar man takes another puff.
“I understand, kid. We’ve all done things we would like to forget.”
The bar is dimly lit. There is a sign above the door. It says, “The Candy Kitchen.”
The tire changer is at the bar. There are jars of peppermint sticks and licorice. Men drink from mugs of beer. Others take shots of whiskey. One man laughs and drinks from a Mason Jar of moonshine.
“Why do they call this place the Candy Kitchen?” a man asks.
“You ain’t from around here, is you?” the bartender says. “If you was, you would know that, wouldn’t you?”
“You’re right, chief. I ain’t from around here. But I ain’t no Yankee or G-man. Just stopped in for a beer. Just wondering why you got this candy in here.”
“It is from Prohibition,” the bartender says. “We started selling candy when the teetotallers got their way. But we still had shine and beer in the basement.”
“So, what goes on in the basement now?” the stranger asks with a grin.
“That ain’t none of your damn business,” the bartender says.
The basement is lit with a single bulb hanging by a wire from the ceiling. Seven men sit on old chairs, crates, and buckets. One of the men is the tire changer.
“Gentlemen, I have called the klavern together to speak about the grave times we live in.”
The man in the center of the room speaks. He is older with thinning hair. His face is fierce. His eyes are wide with passion and anger. Spit flies from his mouth as he speaks.
“We fought a war overseas, but now, we have us a war right here at home. It is brewing, and we can all feel it. It is going to tear apart the fabric of our society.”
There are some amens and nods of agreement.
“The niggers in our midst are getting uppity. They are getting notions of ‘equality’ and ‘civil rights.’ Before you know it, they will be in our schools with our white children. They will be drinking from our fountains and pissing in our bathrooms. They will be voting for their nigger candidates, and we just might see us a damn nigger president before it is over with.”
A wave of disgust and grumbling fills the room.
“When that happens, it will be over with for our white women. They won’t know a day without nigger rape. It will be the white man in the fields picking the cotton while the black man runs the plantation. It is coming, gentlemen. Those days are coming.”
The man speaking pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his forehead. He continues.
“We see this already with the Jenkins widow. Her husband gets killed in the war, and she takes up with the nigger help. It is shameful. It is an abomination. There are all these good whitefolk willing to lend her a hand. There are good white Christian men that wouldn’t hesitate to marry her and farm that land of hers. But she shacks up with that damn nigger, Tuck Collins. This cannot stand.”
The speaker drinks a swig from a beer bottle.
“This town needs some Klan. This town needs this wrong set right. This town needs good Christian men to do what needs to be done.”
The tire changer looks down at his boots.
“What’s wrong, Billy? You ain’t becoming a nigger lover on us, are you?”
Billy looks up. His eyes are fierce.
“Hell, no. I hate a nigger. I just don’t want any killing, Leroy. I done enough killing.”
Leroy shakes his head.
“There ain’t going to be any killing, Billy. We just want to scare them. We just want to run that nigger out of there. That’s all, Billy.”
The rest of the room nods in agreement.
“We’re just going to set right a wrong. For the memory of Bobby Jenkins. May God rest his soul.”
The men hold up their drinks in a salute. Billy holds up his beer as well. They all drink.
The white house is visible in the dark. It is two stories. Porches wrap around the house. Rocking chairs sit still. The wind blows, and the chimes emit their tones. A small light shines in an upstairs window.
Cars and trucks pull up outside. Men dressed in white robes exit the vehicles. They light their torches, and the flames illuminate the front of the house. There are shotguns and rifles. Holsters on belts hold revolvers.
“Get ‘em out here,” one of the masked men says.
Four of the seven go to the door and kick it in. They enter the house. A woman screams. They come out of the house dragging a black man in his underwear.
“String him up,” the man says.
Sally Jenkins fights with the men, but they subdue her. The others tie Tuck’s hands and put a noose over a tree limb. Tuck struggles, and the men beat him. The noose goes around his neck. Tuck stands on a bucket as the noose is pulled tight.
“Let him go!! He ain’t done nothing to you!! Let him down!”
The Jenkins widow screams. The men slap her to calm her down. It is no use.
“You are a nigger loving whore, Mrs. Jenkins,” Leroy says as he takes his hood off. “Your husband is still fresh in his grave, and you took up with this nigger. I bet he was in your bed before your husband ever got killed by the Germans.”
“It ain’t none of your business,” Sally says.
“But it is, lady. We are our brother’s keeper, and we are going to set right this wrong. You are a whore, and whores get what’s coming to them. Strip her!”
The men strip the clothes from Sally Jenkins. They toss her to the ground and take turns raping her. She screams and cries in agony.
Billy looks away.
“What’s wrong, Billy?” Leroy asks. “This ain’t as fun as killing Japs?”
“This ain’t right,” Billy says.
“Right? This woman has disgraced her dead husband and this town with her whoring with that nigger. Why does it matter?”
Billy shakes his head.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
A flash of anger crosses Leroy’s face.
“Hey, everybody. We got a nigger lover with us. Billy’s getting soft.”
The others look at Billy.
“I ain’t no nigger lover, Leroy.”
“The hell you ain’t. You ain’t no different than this whore. Maybe we should get you a nigger girlfriend, and you can get married and have some half-breed nigger babies.”
“Fuck you, Leroy!”
A revolver is put to Billy’s head.
“It’s OK,” Leroy says. “Billy ain’t no Benedict Arnold. He’s just gotten soft from killing Japs. Some men get hard from war, but Billy feels bad. That’s all.”
Leroy leads Billy over to Tuck hanging from the tree limb. Tuck looks into Billy’s eyes.
“Kick that bucket, Billy.”
Billy looks down at his feet. He looks up into Tuck’s eyes.
“Have mercy on me. . .” Tuck says.
A drop of blood spills from Tuck’s mouth as he speaks. It lands on Billy’s face. Crimson stains his white cheek. Billy looks down again.
He kicks the bucket.
The rope pulls taut around Tuck’s neck. He gurgles blood as he strangles in the noose. His death is slow and agonizing. The men stop their raping to witness the death. Sally Jenkins screams and runs to Tuck.
“No, please no! Don’t let this happen!”
Tuck dies. The men leave him to hang. Sally Jenkins lies naked, crumpled, and crying on the ground beneath his body.
“You did a good thing, Billy,” Leroy says. “It needed doing. Let’s go.”
The men get in their cars and trucks and leave.
They unlock the door to the Candy Kitchen and go inside. They lock the door behind them. The bartender serves the beers.
“That got a little messy,” Leroy says. “But I think we sent the message.”
Billy looks sad. The blood is still on his cheek.
“You did good, Billy. I’m sorry for calling you a nigger lover.”
One of the men snicker.
“Billy sure ain’t no nigger lover. Old Tuck is deader than hell.”
They all give Billy a slap on the back.
“Go clean yourself up, Billy,” Leroy says. “We got a beer waiting for you.”
Billy steps into the washroom. He looks at himself in the mirror. He sees the blood on his cheek. He looks away from the mirror.
The men in the bar are talking when there is a knock on the door. The room goes silent.
“Who the hell is that?” Leroy asks.
Leroy walks to the door, unlocks it, and opens it. There is a blast, and Leroy flies backwards. A figure walks into the bar holding a smoking shotgun. It is Sally Jenkins.
Billy rushes from the washroom to see men falling in a hail of fire and buckshot. They scream in agony from their wounds while others simply die. Sally Jenkins shoots and shoots again. Billy runs but takes buckshot to his back. He falls down the stairs to the basement below.
Billy is in a pile at the foot of the stairs. Blood stains the floor around him. He drags himself to the small window to try and escape. He hears a revolver upstairs shooting each man one by one.
Billy limps to one leg and gets on an overturned bucket to reach the window. He gets his body halfway out when he feels the hand pull him back in. He falls to the floor and looks up into the face of Sally Jenkins. She is holding a revolver.
Her face is contorted in agony and sadness. Her face is bruised and cut from the beating. Tears stream from her eyes and mix with blood. She cocks the hammer back on the revolver.
“Have mercy on me. . .” Billy says.
Sally’s hands tremble with the gun in it.
“Have mercy on me. . .”
Sally sees the blood on Billy’s cheek. She cocks the hammer back into place. She turns from him and walks up the stairs. Billy hears her footsteps as she passes over him and leaves the way she came.