Ten hours earlier…
In the town of Twin Oaks, Texas, life moved much slower than it did in the bigger cities and suburbs located nearby. In reality, ‘slower’ was an understatement. It could easily be compared to pond water, which doesn’t flow at all. Nestled in between the city of Dallas and the beginnings of the East Texas pine forests, anyone could easily miss it if they blinked on a road trip to nowhere. At one time or another, it rivaled the size of its closest neighbor but, with the nonexistent bustle of the once flourishing cotton industry and the fact that slave labor was outlawed over a century earlier, it stopped growing almost instantly. Most of the one thousand-one hundred- thirty-eight people that still resided there wanted it that way.
It had all the creature comforts you’d expect from modern civilization. There were a couple of stores that sold groceries, a few churches, a post office, and a YMCA, but it just wasn’t enough incentive for those who’d graduated to remain and donate to the local economy. Better towns were overrun by zombies in horror movies. If you were one of the locals and between the ages of eighteen and fifty, you were more than likely sowing roots there because of a significant other who refused to leave the nest painstakingly built by their parents and grandparents. Regardless, it was the biggest township in Myrtle County.
Ten years prior, upon the placing of Ellen Air Force Base on the outskirts of Twin Oaks, the city council prayed it would bring people and businesses that catered to all walks of life into the city and that neighborhoods would flourish once again, bringing the town out of its redneck stereotype. The decision to place the base there became a double-edged sword. The money the base offered to its civilian workers was so outrageous and unheard of in this part of the state that the employees flocked to the suburbs of the big city, nearly an hour away, to enjoy the benefits of a larger metropolis. The night life, the nicer houses, and the endless shopping options for anything one might want were all within driving distance if you chose to live an hour away from where you worked. In Twin Oaks, the most exciting things to do were either watch the grass grow or the cars rust. In the long run, living an hour away from your job was a very small price to pay.
The airbase itself only had a handful of full-time military personnel stationed there at any given time. The rest of the staff was made up of reservists and civilian locals. To some, it was as though their high school days never ended. Whoever had been the smartest of a graduating group, or whoever kissed the most asses, usually turned out to be the crew supervisor while everyone else fell into place as assemblers, installers, painters, and warehouse workers. It wasn’t unusual to see an entire reunited football team throwing around the pigskin at lunch breaks and in the parking lots after the workday ended. On this day, during one of these typical Ellen Air Base lunch breaks/football games, the star cornerback for the Twin Oaks Tigers graduating class of 1987 was sitting alone on the wing of a C-130 transport aircraft, staring closed-eyed into the high noon sun. He attempted to choke down whatever he’d taken the time to throw together earlier that morning. As though in a hypnotic trance of sorts, he was deep in thought with a troubled mind. His name was Toby Liberman, and he had a problem.
At forty, his dark hair had not a hint of grey, and his body hadn’t quite given in to middle age yet. He possessed the bone structure of a Greek God that any mid-eighties girl would’ve lined up for like excited children for a roller coaster, but the girl he wanted first in line most of all was out in the park lining up for other thrill rides. Toby had no proof whatsoever, just feelings, but sometimes those were worth a hell of a lot more than seeing it all in person. Could he even handle it if he had? He’d been tied to the railroad tracks of matrimony for fifteen years and the barreling train finally reached its destination. Back then, he could barely see the smoke of the train’s engine coming in his mental distance. The man wondered quite a bit as of late what had taken it so long to get there and finish him off. As if his job wasn’t stressful enough without the problems at home following him around, it was beginning to take a horrible toll on his brain.
The hangar was unusually quiet. All the workers disappeared into the break room to deal with the faulty vending machines and swap exaggerated sex stories. On any regular day, one without loads of problems tearing at his mental stability like hungry dogs fighting for morsels, Toby would’ve joined them. He’d done things in his early years which were exotic enough to make a professional pornography star cringe, but his personal sex stories were fictional as of late. The couch was the extent of his living space for weeks and, regardless of how hard he tried, the pillows never quite loved him back. It was so deathly still that the beat of the birds’ wings inside the hangar were close to deafening. He looked down at the drop to the floor from the wing of the plane, wondering if it was high enough to end his pathetic wallowing. Knowing his luck, it would’ve just broken his legs, leaving him without the ability to run away screaming when he reached his breaking point. That point was getting closer with every second.
He peered through the open doors of the metal structure with a sense of near hopelessness. Beyond the noon-sun-heated asphalt of the flight line, an open field of fading green stretched for what seemed like an eternity. Dozens of sets of railroad tracks from the base’s railyard shimmered blindingly until they were swallowed by the horizon. A distant flash of earthbound lightning caught his attention and he snapped back into reality. Under these circumstances, visions of catastrophe involving his wife came to mind. His first instinct would’ve been to phone her a warning of the coming danger. Today, he wished with all his might that she would climb to the pinnacle of the tallest tree in the county wearing a suit of armor.
The sun faded behind the blackened clouds of the brewing storm, and it seemed later in the day than it actually was. The late nights of arguing and near physical confrontation took so much out of him that sleep was the only welcomed thought. Perhaps he would curl up unnoticed in the plane’s empty fuel cell and take a quick nap, but the danger always existed of some of his co-workers filling it without checking first. If he survived the incident, he would be fired most definitely. If he didn’t, well…would that have been so bad? The wing of the plane began to vibrate with the approaching footsteps- he recognized the pattern of footfalls as the only man who could’ve made his day any worse. He didn’t even need to look upward for verification. The smacking sound of an open mouth consuming sustenance was more than enough to announce the unwanted presence. Placing a mental wager on the stupidity about to flow through the food-filled orifice, he braced himself.
“Did you ever notice that the Elton John song ‘Tiny Dancer’ sounds like he’s saying, ‘Hold me closer Tony Danza?’” the man behind him spoke.
“No, Johnny, I never did,” Toby forced a factual answer. “I always thought the guy repeated the same lyrics that are in the title.”
Johnny interrupted him. “No man, you gotta check it out the next time it comes on the radio. It sounds like he’s saying ‘Tony Danza.’ It’s almost like he was giving you a heads up that he doesn’t play for the same team as you and me.”
Toby looked up at Johnny with a sense of near disgust. Now would’ve been as good a time as any to jump off the plane.
“Which one, Elton John or Tony Danza?”
Johnny shot back quickly, “Either one. I think they both have issues.”
“I don’t know why you repeatedly have to give that song such a hard time,” Toby expressed, disturbed. “You know damn well that it was our wedding song. Give it a rest, man!”
Toby looked down again toward the ground with a miniscule smile beginning to creep across his face. “I’m not quite sure which team you’re talking about, John. Your sister has cut me off to the point that I’m beginning to feel like I’m a free agent.”
Johnny Haynes was Toby’s best friend during high school through thick and thin. Even though it seemed like there was more ‘thick’ while they were growing up, they’d remained that way after graduation and into the work force. He looked way too much like his sister with flowing blonde hair and the soft features which only required the use of a razor about once a week. Toby had to fight every urge not to push him from the plane. “I told you not to marry that hooker a long time ago!”
Toby flinched. “That ‘hooker’ happens to be my wife and I’d appreciate it if you’d watch your language when it comes to her.”
A deep snicker came from Johnny. “Well, my friend, that ‘hooker’ just happens to be my little sister, and I’m almost certain that puts me up higher on the chain of command than you. Blood is thicker than semen; I think. I don’t know. She’s the expert.”
Toby slumped in defeat. “Why don’t you just rub that in a little bit more?”
He couldn’t help it. Johnny took the stab. “Now you’re beginning to sound like her, literally.”
“Dammit, Johnny, seriously…do you think she’s screwing around on me?”
Johnny paused and sighed deeply. “I’m not sure, man. I’m kind of at a crossroads with the whole thing anyway. You’re my best bud but…she’s my sister. If it comes down to taking sides, I’ll back the one who’s not out doing wrong. If it’s her, I’ll tell her how I feel. If it’s you, I’ll kick your ass.” Johnny glanced downward to see if Toby was still smiling.
“Besides, I told you not to marry her, you stinking Jew boy!”
Toby shot up to his feet. “I know that you’ve heard this a million times! The past is like an asshole. Everyone has one and, for the last time, I’m not Jewish! My grandfather was!”
Johnny had an answer for this one as well. “Jerk, this isn’t the past; this is your present and future. If she goes, Katie goes too. Do you really want your thirteen-year-old daughter having a different replacement father every other week? On top of that, your last name is Liberman! If that isn’t Jewish, I don’t know what is!”
Toby cringed again but Johnny continued.
“Yeah, asshole, you didn’t think about that one, did you? There’s more at stake here than your love life, or lack thereof. This is your family that’s going through this. It no longer has anything to do with individuals. Once again, though, that’s your fault too. I love her to death, but you should’ve pulled instead of poked. Now you’re tied to her and you made her a Jew, too! That’s the worst part!”
The old Jewish family discussion was nothing new to either of them. They’d argued the point from the first day they’d met and, regardless of how many times Toby Liberman explained his heritage to Johnny in great detail, it never seemed to matter. In the end, Johnny Haynes chose to pretend he never heard any of the words flying from Toby’s mouth just so he could win the argument.
The saddened and irritated man looked up again at the approaching storm. In a way, it was a natural reminder of his current life and a taste of things to come. The edge of the falling rain could be seen at the border of the flight line and the air was beginning to fill with the scent of jet fuel stirred by the water. Johnny’s hair blew backward giving him a look of nobility only seen in dramatic movies. He was right. He’d been right from the beginning. Jessica Liberman, at age thirty-eight, was still the definition of beauty and lust she’d been at age eighteen. From the first time Toby ventured to his friend’s house on an after-school excursion and laid eyes on Jessica Haynes, he’d been in love with her. The problem was that a lot of other guys thought this way as well, and she had a problem with the word “no.” This didn’t seem like much of a problem to Toby in the beginning, because he was the one asking and receiving. Lately, he wasn’t so sure. Johnny sat on the wing next to where Toby stood, watching the coming rain with a sense of Neanderthal awe. Toby swallowed his sense of pride and joined him again.
“I’m not going to let it get to that,” Toby promised.
“It’s not completely your decision to make, Toby,” Johnny added. “I don’t mean to be so cliché and give you the whole ‘it takes two to tango’ spiel, but dammit, you’re going to have to sit her down and tell her like it is. Mention Katie if you need a crutch. Maybe it will bring her back to Earth.”
“John, we haven’t had sex…”
Johnny stopped him dead in his tracks. “Remember our deal, dude. You get to marry my sister, as long as you don’t fill me in on any of the nasty sex stories. That’s some crap the older brother doesn’t need to hear. Why do you think I usually sit on the other side of the lunchroom and ignore you? That’s my sister.”
Toby ignored the warning and continued.
“We haven’t had sex in two months.”
It was Johnny’s turn.
“No. YOU haven’t had sex in two months, unless the pillows count. By your accusations, she’s having sex all the time!”
Toby jumped back to his feet. “Damn you, John, that’s not the kind of stuff I need to hear right now!” Toby shouted, causing an echo in the hangar.
Johnny jumped to his feet, too.
“No, man, that’s exactly the stuff you need to be hearing right now. You need to get angry at what could possibly be going on and take it personally. That’s your wife and, right now, someone might be violating that bond. She’s yours. You need to start acting like she is. I thought you Jewish guys were more possessive than this!”
“What are you suggesting, then?” Toby asked in desperation.
“Oh, come on. If someone came into your garage and stole your freaking lawn mower, and then you were driving down the street and saw them mowing with it, you’d stop, kick them in the teeth, take it home, and go mow your own yard!”
A flicker of reality began to drip into Toby’s mind. Johnny continued.
“You follow her. Next time she leaves, jump in the car all James Bond style and tail her. See where she goes and who she goes there with. If it’s someone that she shouldn’t be jacking around with, you confront them, kick the other dude in the cubes, grab your wife by the hair like the caveman you are, and go home to do what you’ve got to do.”
Toby sighed again and sat back down. The moment was over.
“I shouldn’t have to live this way, John. No one should. I’ve torn my heart open to the point that it’s nearly in two halves.”
Johnny looked down at his friend in disgust.
“Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” he mocked him. “This is your wife. Are you afraid to get up in some guy’s face and lay him out where he should be? Make an example out of him. Kick the spit out of him and all the other guys that are jumping in line will get the picture and bolt.”
“Screw you,” Toby growled. “You know damn well that I’m not afraid to fight someone, even if they’re a lot bigger than me. If I get thrown in jail over this crap though, the Sheriff will skin me alive. He hates me. I don’t even know what the hell I did to him to make him that way, but he hates me.”
Johnny began to laugh hysterically.
“You don’t remember?” he began. “Do you want me to refresh your memory? You beat the crap out of that guy, on a daily basis, from our freshman year until graduation. Why the heck do you think he became a Sheriff? You drove him to that destiny, my friend, and you would almost deserve anything that would happen to you by his hands.”
“Well, that’s a bold statement and a little bit uncalled for,” Toby said. “I can’t believe you think that I ruined someone into being a cop.”
“Not just a cop,” Johnny smiled, “but the Sheriff. The HPIC. The Head Pig In Charge of all other pigs. He hates you. I don’t know what hurt him more- the fact that you beat the crap out of him all the time, or the fact that you hooked up with, screwed, and married the girl that he followed around like a puppy for most of his childhood.”
“Yeah,” Toby said in a much softer tone of voice. “Ouch. I didn’t think of it all like that. You’re right, he should kill me, and I’m not a Jew.”
The rain poured into the building in sheets and the wind howled through the open doors of the hangar like a moaning creature nearing its own death. The lunch break was nearing its end. A few of the workers scattered out into the hangar to save some of the equipment from being overtaken by the rising flood conditions, which were worsening with every passing moment. With the dirty looks being emitted from the sky above, it appeared as though the drought had finally given up the ghost.
Johnny spoke again.
“Have you noticed how skinny she’s gotten? I mean, not that she was ever fat or anything, but she’s definitely beginning to look a little sickly for lack of a better term. Maybe you should take her to the doctor.”
“I’ve been noticing that, too,” Toby said as he hung his head low. “I don’t want to even think about that part. Compared to what’s wrong with most of the women around this town, I would hope that it’s some kind of cancer rather than her being hooked on that stuff.”
“You are talking about the glass pipe, right?” Johnny inquired.
“Yeah,” Toby replied. “It would explain a lot; the distance, the lack of sex drive, the weight loss, and the absence from home. What do you think?”
Johnny seemed as though he was at a loss for words which was highly unusual for him. In reality, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the truth of the situation.
“That’s what I’m saying,” he began. “You need to follow her one night, but don’t take on any of those tweakers alone. They’re not anything to be scared of when it’s one-on-one, but if you catch them in a pack, they’ll kick your ass from one side of town to the other. Zombie style.”
Toby was near tears from all realizations forced upon him over the previous half hour. No matter what, he wasn’t going to let his friend see him cry. He sucked it up back into his emotional hurricane of nerves and swallowed hard. He was reaching for the easiest of answers in an endless sea of difficulties.
“What if we’re wrong, John?” he hoped aloud. “What if she’s not screwing around and not strung out on drugs, and she’s just going through some tough times? What if it’s a mental thing?”
“What do you mean, like she’s gone retarded or something?” Johnny asked. “I wouldn’t think so, but I could be wrong. I’ve never heard of a retarded Jew before, but I know that neither of us would’ve passed high school if it hadn’t been for her. She has no problem helping Katie with her homework. I guess it could be some kind of imbalance or something. The only thing is…every guy I know that claimed their wife had some kind of imbalance ended up finding out they were sleeping around and on drugs.”
“You gotta have goals, I guess,” Toby said, smiling to break the depression of the moment. “and she would only be a Jew by marriage…if I was Jewish!”
There had to be answers out there somewhere, but they eluded the two guessing individuals in the flooding airplane hangar. Twin Oaks wasn’t that big of a town and, most of the time, everyone who lived there knew just about everything there was to know about everyone else. The only problem was that people weren’t exactly blowing up his phone to tell him everything going on in his life that he didn’t know. Chances are, they were way too embarrassed or they’d been threatened. By whom, though?
“You plan on heading to the American Legion after work to toss back a couple of cold ones?” Toby asked John, hoping for a positive answer.
“Didn’t we just spend the last half hour talking about how to save your marriage? Going out drinking with the guys after work on a Friday isn’t really the best solution to what you’ve got going on at home.”
“Jessica has her twenty-year class reunion tonight at the high school, and she told me that she wouldn’t be home until later or early in the morning. I don’t know if I trust her or not, but I wouldn’t want to be the jerk that kept her from a reunion. That would just make things worse,” Toby said.
“So basically, it’s nothing different in her behavioral pattern if she decides to stay out all night tonight than any other night of the week,” Johnny joked to get a little bit more of a rise out of his friend.
“Do you ever stop?” Toby smirked. “We have a babysitter for Katie and everything, so…are you coming or not?
“That is what you need to ask Jessica!” Johnny quipped.
Toby was getting impatient again. “Just answer the damn question so I can convince myself to go out rather than go home to the dark house to watch porn on the internet.”
“What else would I have to do?” Johnny said matter-of-factly. “I could go out and have my way with the town hooker, but you’re currently married to her!”
“Dammit, that’s it!” Toby screamed, causing some of the workers below to pause in their cleanup activities. “You’re going off the wing of this plane, smartass!”
Toby and Johnny grabbed hold of one another and pretended like one was going to throw the other off.
“Careful up there!” one of the workers shouted from below, but neither of them cared.
“Oh, go and mop up some water or something you freaking drone!” Johnny shouted back.
He looked back at Toby who was now looking much more like himself than he had a half hour earlier at the beginning of their lunch break.
“Yeah,” Johnny finally answered. “I could go for a beer or ten, listen to some good music, make fun of the old war farts, and play some pool…but no crying on my shoulder.”
“I promise. No crying on your shoulder,” Toby assured him.
“…and no crying in my beer either, that stuff isn’t getting any cheaper and I don’t like the taste of Jewish tears.”
“Understood.” Toby added, finalizing the deal. “And my grandfather was Jewish, not me.”
“I know,” Johnny sneered at him. “I’m just jacking with you.”
The workers had now all lined up to close the rusty, World War II era designed hangar doors to keep the rain from flooding the building any more than it already had.
“Hey, you up there in the Guns N Roses shirt,” came a familiar voice from below, startling both Toby and Johnny to the point of nearly falling off without being pushed.
“Which one?” Johnny asked smiling.
“Ha ha, funny assholes!” the man returned fire. “What do you guys do? Raid each other’s closets when you wake up in the morning?”
“No, I got this one out of your mother’s dresser this morning!” Johnny proclaimed.
The man did not look amused.
“Both of you get down here and help us close the hangar doors. That’s an order!”
“And just who has bestowed upon you the authority of telling us what to do?” Johnny challenged him.
“I’m your damn supervisor, punk. Get down here or go home!”
Toby and Johnny laughed at the small, balding man in the button up shirt who was wading through knee-deep water to coordinate the work effort.
“Oh, yeah. I forgot you got promoted, you butt smoocher!” Johnny rang back.
“What the hell are you doing?” Toby asked frantically. “You’re going to get fired if you keep taunting him like that!”
“No, I won’t!” Johnny assured him. “I don’t even work in this department, remember? However, you better swim down there and help the poor midget because he can definitely fire you!”
Toby finally decided to play along. “Perhaps if I offered him Jessica for the night he’d back off.”
Johnny couldn’t help it. “Sorry, my friend. There’s a waiting list and, by the time it got around to his name, Jess wouldn’t be all that appealing anymore. Not that he’d care. He probably screws pillows.”
Toby felt a little embarrassed as he waved goodbye to his friend. “I’ll see you at the bar after work!” he shouted.
“You can bet on it,” Johnny assured him as he disappeared through the front doors of the hangar.
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.