Monday 25 March 2024

Brothers by Frank Zahn, cola

On the way home from school, Mark Allen Rinehart stopped off at Katz Drugstore in Waldo. Inside, he picked up a magazine on the magazine and comic rack across from the soda fountain and thumbed through it. Kenny Norris and three of his buddies brushed by him. As they did, Kenny shoved him hard against the rack. The rack tipped backward and crashed onto the floor with Mark Allen on top in a heap of magazines and comics.

The store manager catapulted over the counter of the soda fountain. ‘Look what you’ve done!’ he shouted, then turned to a girl who worked behind the counter of the soda fountain and called out, ‘Cindy, call the police!’

Mark Allen scrambled to his feet. ‘He shoved me,’ he said, breathing heavily and pointing at Kenny.

Kenny lunged at Mark Allen with clenched fists. ‘Shut your face, Rinehart!’ he shouted and swung his fists wildly at Mark Allen.

Mark Allen fought back, blocking most of Kenny’s efforts to hit him and landing several well placed punches in Kenny’s stomach and face. When it was clear that Kenny was no match for Mark Allen, his buddies joined in to help him.

Battered with blood oozing from his nose and lower lip, Mark Allen was knocked to the floor several times, but he got back up each time and continued to fight, even though Kenny and his buddies were getting the best of him.

People had gathered around to watch the fight. Several of them complained that the fight was unfair—four against one, but they didn’t do anything to stop it. And the store manager didn’t do anything to stop it either; he just watched with arms folded over his chest and a smirk on his face.

Mark Allen’s brothers Harry, Eddie, and Clinton must have heard the commotion the fight was causing because they came running from the rear of the store. They had been looking at a portable radio to give their mother for her birthday. When they saw what was happening, Harry and Clinton rushed to Mark Allen’s defense with the ferocity of charging bulls. Eddie hesitated, but only for a moment before joining his brothers in the fight.

With nightsticks in hand, two police officers burst into the drugstore and came running toward the fight.

Someone yelled. ‘Here come the cops!’

Kenny and his three buddies fled toward the back of the store.

Mark Allen and his brothers brushed their hair away from their faces with their hands and straightened their clothing. Mark Allen grabbed several paper napkins from a dispenser on the counter of the soda fountain and wiped the blood off of his face and hands.

The store manager took a closer look at the damage. The magazine and comics rack was broken in several places. Magazines and comics—some of them torn—were strewn out all over the floor, along with napkins, straws and other items that had been knocked off the counter of the soda fountain.

The store manager pointed at Mark Allen. ‘This kid, this boy knocked over the rack and caused the damage,’ he explained to the police officers. ‘Four other boys accused him of it, so he, and a little later, his brothers, got into a fight with them.

‘Are the four other boys the ones we saw run off toward the back of the store when they saw us coming?’ one of the police officers asked.

‘Yeah, that’s them. There’s an emergency exit back there. So, they’re probably long gone by now.’

‘What’s your name,’ one of the police officers asked Mark Allen.

‘Mark Allen Rinehart.’

‘So Mark Allen Rinehart, what have you got to say for yourself?’ one of the police officers asked.

 ‘One of the guys who ran off shoved me against the magazine and comics rack. It fell over, and I fell over on top of it,’ Mark Allen explained. ‘When I told the manager that, the guy got mad and started a fight. His buddies joined in, punching and kicking me. I was fightin’ all four of them by myself until my brothers came runnin’ from the back of the store and jumped in to even up the sides.’

When the police officers asked several of the people what they had seen, each one refused to comment, saying they didn’t want to get involved.

‘Well, I’ll tell you what I saw,’ Eddie said to the police officers. ‘When me and my brothers Harry and Clinton heard the commotion and came runnin’ from the rear of the store, four guys were beatin’ up on Mark Allen. It was four against one. So we jumped in to even up the score. That’s the truth. Honest. I wouldn’t lie to you.’

‘Yeah, sure,’ one of the police officers quipped.

‘It is the truth, and anybody who says different is a goddamn liar,’ Harry said.

‘That’s enough of that kind of language,’ one of the police officers told Harry.

‘Are you gonna press charges?’ the other police officer asked the store manager.

The store manager hesitated. ‘I should, but maybe not this time,’ he said. ‘The store has insurance to cover the damage.’ Then he turned to Mark Allen and added, ‘But if I catch you or your brothers in my store again, I’ll call the police and see that all four of you are sent to the reformatory at Booneville.’

‘Okay, outside, all four of you,’ one of the police officers said to Mark Allen and his brothers. ‘We’ll take you down to the Forty-Third Street police station and let your parents come and get you.’

*  *  *

Momma Rinehart answered the phone when the desk sergeant at the police station called. After a brief exchange, he hung up the phone and told Mark Allen and his brothers that their mother was going to call their father and have him come and get them. Then he instructed a police officer to take them to a room where they were to wait until their father arrived.

*  *  *

Chuck Long, the gangly young man who worked for Papa Rinehart, drove Papa to the police station in his pickup. It was a little after four o’clock in the afternoon. Chuck waited in the pickup while Papa went inside.

Papa took off his cap and identified himself to the desk sergeant, who sent a police officer to fetch the boys. While waiting, Papa talked with the desk sergeant and the two police officers who had brought Mark Allen and his brothers to the station. The two police officers explained to Papa what the store manager had told them about the fight and the damages in the drugstore. Papa listened calmly without comments or questions, but he looked relieved when told the store manager was not going to press charges.

Papa thanked the desk sergeant and the two police officers for their trouble and left the station with his four sons trailing behind. Chuck drove them home. Harry, Eddie, and Clinton rode in the back of the pickup. Mark Allen rode in the cab between Papa and Chuck.

‘Do you want to hear what happened, Papa,’ Mark Allen said after a long silence between them.

‘I already know,’ Papa said in a stern voice. The two police officers who took you and your brothers to the police station told me.’

‘Yeah, but my guess is they told you the drugstore manager’s version. And that’s not the truth.’

‘We’ll talk later when we get home.’

‘But, Papa. . .’

‘I said we’ll talk about it later!’ Papa said, raising his voice.

*  *  *

When later came just before supper that evening, Papa and Momma called Mark Allen and his brothers into the living room. All four boys had a look of dread on their faces.

‘Okay, Mark Allen, let’s have it,’ Papa said when everyone was seated. ‘Convince me that you and your brothers don’t deserve a good smack on your backsides,’ Papa said.

Mark Allen cleared his throat and explained. When he had finished, Papa said, ‘So, you’re saying the store manager lied?’

‘He did, Papa! I swear to God he did!’ Mark Allen shouted.

‘Don’t swear, Mark Allen,’ Momma said.

‘Why would the store manager do that, Mark Allen?’ Papa asked.

‘For one thing, he’s Kenny Norris’ cousin. And they’re thicker than thieves.’

‘His cousin?’ Papa said with a surprised look on his face.

‘Yes, his cousin,’ Mark Allen said. ‘And he and Kenny have had it in for me ever since I got the best of Kenny in a fight he started after school a couple of weeks ago.’

‘Well, I’ll be. That sure puts a different light on things. In fact, it downright ticked me off. Sounds to me like the store manager needs to be taught a lesson in telling the truth, regardless of how bad it makes one of his relatives look,’ Papa said, then added. ‘But nevertheless, you boys should do as he says and stay out of that store—at least, for now. And in the meantime, I’ll have a talk with Jim Pratt. He’s the district manager for the drugstore chain. I know that because his younger brother works for me.’

Mark Allen and his brothers relaxed.

‘But all that aside, one good thing has come out of this,’ Papa said. ‘You boys stood together as brothers when one of you was in trouble. And if you remember to do that always, people who give you a bad time will soon get the message that the Rinehart boys don’t take shit from nobody.’

Momma grimaced. ‘Papa, for pity’s sake, watch your language.’

‘Trust me, Momma. I am watchin’ it,’ Papa said. ‘From what Mark Allen just told me, and I believe him, I’m not sayin’ half of what I feel like sayin’. If I did, you’d be mad at me for a month of Sundays.’

About the author  

Frank Zahn is an author of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His publications include nonfiction books, articles, commentaries, book reviews, and essays; novels; short stories; and poetry. Currently, he writes and enjoys life at his home among the evergreens in Vancouver, Washington, USA. For details, visit his website, Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)

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