Wesley Johnson

The Last Hurrah of Cullin Goss

The kitchen smelled of cooking beans, rosemary, thyme, fried bacon, biscuits, and everything else that was associated with a simple country life. Taking the lid off the crock-pot Cullin Goss stirred the bean soup that would not be ready for hours. He liked to cook beans slow. He would bake some cornbread later to go with the soup. He thought of his wife as he tasted the beans, she had never cared for them because she claimed they gave her gas. He raised the window above the sink to let in the cool, morning, spring air, to mix with the scents of his life.

Looking down, Cullin fondly touched the hot water handle on the kitchen sink. He smiled as he turned the water on and off. The handle was chipped and his wife Ellie had bitched at him for years to replace it. She had never understood why he did not fix it for Cullin Goss was the type of man that never left anything around the house in need of repair. He did not fix it now out of respect to her memory. Ellie had been gone three years, of the cancer.

Emma, their Basset Hound, strolled into the kitchen ready for her morning breakfast. Barking, with the low, beautiful voice that bassets are known for, Emma let him know her displeasure at his tardiness.
“Easy old girl. It’s coming,” he said mixing her food. Emma was the third basset that Ellie and he had raised and loved. He looked out the window to where Zoe and Dori were buried under the big oak in the back yard. Ellie had insisted that he make them grave markers, and not just wooden crosses, but stone headstones. His friends and neighbors had laughed when he got Zoe, their first basset, a marble marker that he carefully carved himself. Thirteen years later Dori got one to match. Each dog had lived thirteen years and Emma was now thirteen. “Here it is girl,” Cullin said putting the bowl on the floor. Emma gave him a disapproving look and slowly strolled to the bowl.

At seventy-nine years old Cullin Goss was in remarkable shape. He had never smoked, drank only socially, never did drugs, and exercised regularly. Picking up his gym bag, he prepared to drive into town and get a workout at the local gym.

As he made his way down the front steps, across the yard, and out to his ’66 Chevy pick-up in the driveway, he stopped to look back at the house. So many memories, good and bad, mostly good, spent in the two story, white farmhouse. The ancient willow in the front yard creaked and swayed in the breeze, a soft music to him. He was born in the house, as were his three children: Robert Madison Goss, fifty-three, an engineer (as Cullin had been) living in Seattle with his wife. Edgar Monroe Goss, fifty-two, a lawyer, also living in Seattle with his wife. Bonn Sharin (Goss) Claymore, forty-nine, an executive, living in Chicago with her husband. Between all three kids they had given Ellie and him ten grand children and twenty-three great grand children.

He pulled out of the drive slowly observing the house and land. The farm was two hundred and fifty acres of prime farmland. When Ellie had died all three of the kids had tried to get him to sell and move in with one of them or at least closer to them. He had just laughed and said he would never sell the land he was born on.

Driving down the road to town he rolled down the window. Taking in a deep breath he smiled. The land was peaceful all about, still cold enough for folks to be burning wood, and the smoke rose from the chimneys above the trees, before flattening out and streaming east across Margram’s Hollow, which was not a hollow at all but a valley. All of the hardwoods were in leaf and the valley was alive in color and verdant green. He could not ever imagine leaving this world of life and memory that was as much of him as the blood in his veins and the spirit of his soul.

Coming to the out skirts of Haney’s Stoop he slowed to twenty-five miles an hour and waved at Officer Bill Wilson. The local law enforcement was very serious about the town speed limit. Officer Wilson gave a desultory wave and waited for the next potential victim to come along. Haney’s Stoop, population two thousand and dropping, was a peaceful community of country and farm folk, where not much happened. There had not been a murder in Haney’s Stoop since 1972 when old man Harger had killed his wife Mabel. The local kids were a good lot and not much into drugs just the occasional kegger party. The folks that did not make their living farming mostly had city, county, or state jobs. Most of the young ones moved away when they finished school. Haney’s Stoop was dying and knew it.

Cullin pulled up in front of the Midnight Café, which he thought funny, since the café closed at nine pm and had for thirty years. He stopped to get a paper from the machine at the front door of the café. Paper in hand he pushed open the door and walked in. At a glance Cull knew the story. In the back, in the booth reserved just for her, was old Mrs. Johnson, her husband gone these long years, children all grown and gone or dead, ordering her biscuits and gravy, hoping to catch a tad bit of gossip for bingo night over to the church. In a booth, against the east wall, sat the Sutton boys, all four of them, having their coffee and breakfast, before they made their way to work, two to the road crew, two to the forestry department. The Williams were there along with the Smiths and Bosters and a couple of Cullin’s own cousins. They all nodded greeting as Cullin sat up to the counter, his coffee already before him. Ben Childress nodded said “Cull”. “Ben” said Cullin.

Things quieted down after Cullin had opened his paper and begin to read. Stacey Barnes, the waitress, sauntered up to Cullin, put her elbows on the counter and said, “When you taking me out you good looking devil.”

“You ought not to tease an old man like that girl. I might take you up on it some day and have a heart attack. Now how’d that look?” Cullin said with a twinkle in his eye. He liked Stacey. She was forty and still pretty with natural chestnut hair, a wide, open face, and gray eyes. Her body was still firm, Cullin had seen her at the gym, and would be a comfort to many a man. Her husband had up and left her a couple of years back and never returned. The valley life had been to tame for him Cullin suspected.

“Oh, go on with you Cull. You’d probably give me a heart attack,” she was saying when the local medic Ed Chilcoat came in. Ed was Ellie’s third cousin. Stacey hurried down to Ed with a look of concern written on her face. “How is she Ed?” she asked.

“Not good Stacey, but she’ll live, barely. He broke a couple of ribs, blacked her eyes, oh gawd, we think she may be hemorrhaging inside. I’ll know more later. Can I get some coffee?”

“Damn that Mike Wilson. Did they arrest him?” Stacey asked pouring Ed’s coffee.
“Nope,” Ed replied.
“Didn’t even throw him in jail! Well, damn him anyway, and his daddy a deputy, and his granddad the Sheriff of the whole county. Why if I was a man———-.”
“But you ain’t. Just hush up girl,” Ben Childress said in a stern tone.
“Why, Ben Childress, I’m just saying.”
“I know, just say it in yer mind girl. There’s many that might take exception,” Childress said getting up.
Cullin finished his third cup of coffee, left money on the counter, and left the café. Pausing on the sidewalk, he looked up and down Main Street and wondered when the end would come. Getting in his truck, he drove to the end of the street to the gym at the WMCA.

Forty-five minutes later Cullin was back in his truck. Driving back up Main Street he turned left on Fifth Avenue and headed for Sharon Tippit’s place. Sharon was the widow of Cullin’s best friend Bill Tippit. A heart attack had claimed Bill a year ago come next week. Sharon was also the mother of Barbara Wilson the girl Ed had spoken of back at the café. Barbara was the youngest of Bill and Sharon’s ten children. Bill and Sharon had been some busy fuckers Cull thought and laughed. Pulling up in front of the little white house he admired the yard. One of the Grand boys must be mowing it for her he thought.

Opening the gate Cullin could hear the Tippet’s terriers making a fuss. Before he reached the porch Sharon came out the front door to greet him. She smiled and hugged Cull but he could see the worry behind her blue eyes. “Why, Cullin Goss, it’s been two months since you last dropped by. I’m beginning to think you don’t love me no more,” Sharon said as she ushered him inside.

“You know I’ll love you til the day I die girl,” Cullin said stopping to pet the terriers.
“Oh, hush now. You want coffee?”
“Nope. I had three cups down at the café.”
“Well then, would you like some of my cookies? I just made a fresh batch.”
“No thanks Sharon. I just finished a work out. I’m trying to watch my figure.”
“You and your vanity Cull. You all ways have been in good shape. Ellie liked it. She told me.”
“Now you hush, girl. I didn’t come here to be embarrassed.” Cullin said smiling.
“Why did you come by Cull,“ Sharon said sensing unease in Cullin.
“How’s Barbara?”

Sharon picked at an imaginary piece of lint on Cullin’s knee. “She’s not good Cull. It would of just killed Bill if he wasn’t gone already,” she said. Looking out the window a tear traced a wrinkle down her still pretty face.

“I changed my mind. I believe I will have some of them cookies.”

Cull drove the old river road back towards his place. It was a peaceful drive. He watched the river slowly roll by and pondered. He thought, when does a man contemplate his soul or non-existence of it? He did not know. He and Ellie had attended the Baptist church in town for forty years. Religion hadn’t took with Cull. Ellie knew and never badgered him for it. It was one of the things he had loved about her.

Nearing Moon’s Bend Cull slowed the truck and observed the parking lot by the boat launch. Sure enough there was the Wilson boy’s truck and boat trailer just like he thought. Whistling and old tune Cull pushed the gas pedal a little harder and headed for home.

Emma barked and then lay down wagging her tail and looked up with mournful eyes. “Hey old girl, did ya miss me?” Cull said stopping to pet her. Standing Cull made his way to the stairs and started up.

At the top he stopped and took in the second floor. The kid’s rooms, empty of children, long years gone. Ellie and his room was at the end and he went to their dresser and opened the bottom drawer. Reaching deep in the back under Ellie’s underwear he felt the handle and removed the pistol.

The Luger fit well in his hand. He admired its shape and feel. His father had brought it home from Europe at the end of World War II and given it to Cull on his twenty-fifth birthday. Tucking the pistol in his waistband he walked back down stairs and out the front door.
Mike Wilson saw the old man standing by his truck as he steered the boat toward the launch. He wondered what the hell old man Goss was doing out here without his boat. Nearing the boat launch he yelled at Cullin. “Hey Cull, catch this line will ya?”
“Sure thing Mike. Toss her here.”
As Mike climbed from the boat he turned to thank Cullin and saw the pistol. “Hey Cullin, what the hell’s the pistol for?”
“I sure wish you hadn’t beat her son.”
“What? Fuck you old man. My grandpa and daddy will fry your ass you fuck with me.” Mike said his face red with rage. The shot zipped by Mike’s right ear startling and causing his sphincter to clinch.
“I don’t think they will Mike. Now get on your face or the next one is in your forehead.”
“Alright old man, just be cool, don’t shoot again.”
“Oh, I’m cool Mike, but if you’re not on your face in three seconds I will shoot again.”
“Alright, alright, I’m movin Cull,” Mike said.
Cullin took a pair of cable ties from his pocket and approached Mike’s prone figure. “Now put your hands behind your back and cross them at the wrist. If you move too fast son I’ll just kill ya. You understand?”
“Yes sir, don’t do nothing stupid old man,” Mike said crossing his wrists behind his lower back. He felt Cullin quickly place a tie around his wrists and cinch it up tight. ‘That’s too tight man!”
“Shut up Mike,” Cullin said slipping a sack over Mike’s head ignoring the young man’s complaints.
When Mike was in the back of Cull’s truck Cullin put the remaining cable tie around the man’s ankles and yanked it tight. “Fuck!” Mike said.
“Now Mike, if I see you thrashing around back here I’m just going to stop and kill ya in the truck, so be still.”
Mike could see but he thought he was in a barn. He could smell oil mixed with dirt, dry straw, leather, and new alfalfa. It must be Cull’s barn but he wasn’t sure. He heard Cullin Goss rummaging around with something and then heard creaking hinges. Cullin grabbed him by the ankles and then he was dragged down some old wooden steps scrapping skin off of his back and arms. “What the fuck?”
Cullin yanked Mike up and sat him in a chair. “You have a foul mouth kid.”
“Fuck you ya old son-of-a-bitch,” Mike said starting to whimper. It had finally occurred to him that the old man might really hurt him.
Mike felt a rope being placed over his head and neck and then the sack was removed. The light blinded him a moment and then things came into focus. Cullin sat across a table from Mike with the end of the rope in his hand and a shot glass in the other. A bottle of Johnny Walker Red was beside Cullin’s hand. Mike followed the rope up and saw that it was thread through a series of pulleys. Cullin slowly lifted the shot glass to his lips and sipped.
“You crazy old man let me out of here!” Mike said.
“I never really cared for drink much, but this is a tradition. I always take me a shot of good whiskey before I judge a man.”
“Judge! For what old man? Beatin that bitch? Come on Cull you know how it is. A man comes home tired and has a few too many and the old lady gets to naggin and the next thing ya know you beatin her ass.”
“No Mike, I’m afraid I don’t know how it is. All though you just made up my mind for me,” Cull said finishing his drink.

While the old man had spoke Mike had started to take in the room. It had four shelves that ran around the sides and back walls. He made out what filled the shelves and began to scream. Skulls lined the shelves, their eyeless sockets staring pitilessly and uncaring at the void of eternity.

“Oh god, oh god, not me, you sick fuck. No please, Cull, I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean it. Please Cull don’t kill me. I’ll never touch her again I promise. I promise Cull. I’ll leave town! I will Cull! I won’t tell my dad or grandpa. Just don’t kill me, Cull.”

“You talk too much Mike. Shut up and I’ll tell you a story,” Cull said pouring another drink. Pointing to the lower shelve on Mike’s left Cull said. “That one was the first. He was my Ellie’s first boyfriend. I had been out of town on a job and when I got back I went to see her. I was trying to steal her away from him you see. Well, she came to the door and had her head all lowered and turned to the side kind of hidin it from me. I grabbed her chin and turned her face up and there it was. One of the worse black eyes I ever saw on a gal. All of these were men that abused women or children. Be comforted Mike. You are the last. My last hurrah you might say.”

Mike Wilson’s disappearance was talked about for a few months. The talk died down after a while. Mike’s grandpa or dad never got around to questioning Cullen Goss.