Henrietta, Texas, 1956 or 1957: I’m not sure of the date. In the terror of the memory, some parts are vague, unreal. It was when I attended Junior High, which at that time was in the old, two-story brick high school building near the center of town.
Life was exciting and new. My friends and I were in the big school, with the big, grown-up kids in high school, and some of them had cars. My home life was shaken up, for my mother had married Dr. Strickland, and we’d gone to live in the flat of rooms above his office. This was on the other side of downtown, across from the hospital, and right on the main road, Highway 287, which ran through the center of town.
I had a friend named Bobby Mitchell, I had been to their house, and so I knew his older brother, Mike Mitchell.
Mike generally ignored me, or treated me with disdain. He was at that age when teen boys begin to think themselves wild and dangerous, and that’s what started the trouble.
What happened was, one of Mike’s pals, I think it was Larry Holman, had a car. It was an old, rounded Ford or a Mercury, I didn’t know cars so I’m not sure, but he drove it to High School, and several of Mike’s friends and Larry Holman began hanging around together, and usually departing school in this car.
Mike had dark hair and flashing eyes, and had grown tall and rangy, and I guess his buddies started calling him ‘Black Bart.’ His name was not Bartholomew, but I suppose that ‘Black Bart’ sounded more sinister than ‘Black Mike.’
And what with one thing and another, the next thing I know, I began hearing references to … Black Bart’s gang.
That day the bunch of them were lounging against the car in the shade of the elms outside the school, as I left the doors and the safety of the high school building. Perhaps they picked up on my fear, because Mike called out, “Dickie!” (That was my name.) I blinked.
“Come here!” he ordered.
Reluctantly, I walked up to the car where they stood, scowling. They were so big. I said nothing.
“Where are you going?” he demanded.
“Uh, home,” I said.
“We’ll see about that,” he said. “Get in the car.”
Perhaps there were looks back and forth between the four of them, but I didn’t see. I was terrified, and I got in the car, into the back seat as he held the door open.
They all piled in. Larry Holman drove, with Mike riding shotgun. I was squished between the other two in the back seat. Mike smiled over the seat at me, an evil smile.
“We’re going to take you for a little ride,” he said.
“Uh ….” I said.
Larry Holman backed up and pulled out, tires squealing. He glanced at Mike. Mike gestured ahead.
“Let’s take him out to the country,” he said.
“Uh ….” I said.
I shut up.
Larry Holman turned onto the highway.
Mike ordered me to get down on the floorboards in the back. One of the others put his foot on my back.
I could see nothing but the ratty carpet in front of my face. It smelt of damp leaves. It wasn’t very comfortable, because of the hump in the floor, which was where the driveshaft went to the back wheels. I began thinking about everything I knew about cars, trying to calm my racing mind, as I felt the car speeding and slowing, rocking this way and that, turning corners.
The members of the gang talked among themselves. One asked if they should really leave me way out here. The others said sure, that I could walk home in a few hours. So I knew they probably weren’t planning to kill me. Then they began talking about the wild dogs.
This went on for some time. They grew quiet, occasionally saying something like, “That’s old man Johnson’s place. Remember when he shot that guy with the shotgun?”
After what seemed an eternity, the car drew up to a stop.
“Get out,” said Mike, that is, Black Bart.
“Come on!” I cried out.
“Shut up! Get out!”
The door opened. I was hefted and shoved out the door.
Terrified, stumbling, I regained my feet, as the car squealed away behind me.
I was standing in front of my house.