Art Lefkowitz : Dumb Denny (fiction)
Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in NY. I thought it was necessary to drive 2″ from the rear bumper in front of you. I thought it was mandatory to never let anyone in your lane, even if you weren’t in a hurry. a job offer got me to South Carolina. I’m a lot calmer now.
It was cool and dark in the Graceville, Florida, funeral home. The organ music was muted and everyone talked in whispers. My Aunt Helen, a large, seventy four year old woman, sat on a small sofa sobbing and sniffling loud enough to be heard throughout the viewing room and reception area. She was a kind woman who, never missed a Sunday at church. They found, my Uncle Ed lying face down, in six inches of water in Cat Fish Creek, . he He had died of a heart attack. I’m sure he was glad to die that way. The two things my Uncle Ed loved most were my Aunt Helen and fishing. Ed delivered auto parts to the local garages and dealers. When he finished early, or on his lunch hour, he would pull over to the nearest lake or stream and fish. Ed kept a fishing rod that extended like a car antennae, along with his favorite fishing hat with the lures stuck on it, in the truck.
Uncle Ed looked happy in his casket, his hands folded across his large stomach. Everyone loved him and darn near the whole town turned out to say good-bye to their friend Ed Turner.
On the other side of town, there was a poker game going on in the smokey backroom of Boners Bar. Rusty, Red, Spider, Charlie, Hank, and Gino were drunk, cussing, and laughing too loud. They were all ex-cons and divorced. They dealt in untaxed cigarettes, small amounts of weed, cocaine, and meth. The sheriff referred to them as forty-year-old juvenile delinquents.
Denny, broke, and homeless, was sitting in the corner. He would probably end up sleeping on the poker table when the card game finally ended. Denny was, twenty-five, six feeoot, two, skinny, with a pinched face that sported a long, hooked nose. When he walked, his head bobbed forward with each step he took, and his arms flopped at his side. Folks thought he looked like some kind of loopy bird trying to fly. Everyone in town called him Dumb Denny. He had dropped out of high school at sixteen, without ever learning a thing.
The forty-year-old juvenile delinquents told Denny they were Mafia members. This made him want to hang with them even more though they occasionally beat him. Denny earned spare change by going to the Six-to- Twelve mart to buy chewing tobacco, beef jerky, and burritos for the Mafia. Often, Denny would screw up the order, and his ‘Mafia’ buddies would beat and kick him. They liked to kick him in the groin, because he would scream like a girl, and the gang would laugh and imitate him all night.
Ed left specific instructions for his final exit scene. He insisted his ashes be spread across Lake Winnecomack in Butler, Virginia. That lake had many fond memories for him. It’s where he met Helen, his high school sweetheart. They would often fish together. The fish were plentiful. The water was so clear they could actually see the fish take the bait in the three foot deep lake. One hot July, jus’t before Helen was heading off to college, and Ed was selected for Vietnam, they were drifting in their canoe on the lake. Helen let her little hand trail in the cool water and shook her wet hand towards Ed’s face. Ed cupped his big hand in the water and splashed her, as she shrieked with laughter. Helen then took the wet oar and splashed Ed with it. He laughed and then stood up in the canoe so fast, blood rushed from his head, ; he lost his balance and tipped the canoe over. They waded ashore and ran behind a big mulberry bush, shed their clothes, and continued laughing as they wrung out each garment and got dressed again. They lied lay down on a grassy knoll on the bank of the lake to let the ninety-four degree temperature dry their damp clothes. They were holding hands, laughing about what had jus’t happened when their upside down canoe came drifting by. Ed stripped his almost dry clothes off, swam out, and pulled the canoe back on shore while Helen laughed, whooped and hollered.
Back at the Turner house, serious discussions were going on about the funeral and getting Ed’s ashes to Virginia. Several plans were made, but there was always a conflict. Helen was terrified of flying and she couldn’t drive. Everyone had kids or kinfolk to take care of, and as a last resort, it was reluctantly agreed upon to give dumb Denny a hundred dollars to drive Helen up to Lake Winnecomack the following Wednesday.
It was two AM at Boners Bar, when Gino sat down with Denny and, in his thick Brooklyn accent and raspy voice, told him, “I unnerstan youse is gonna drive dat Turner broad up to Virginia. I’m gonna give you a hundred to take a package up dere. jus’’ leave it on the car seat when you get dere an I’ll have a friend pick it up.”
Denny was ecstatic. He never earned more than twenty dollars at any one time in his life, and now, suddenly, he was going to have two hundred dollars.
The following Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day. Ed’s old 1988 Cadillac had less than thirty thousand miles on it. The car had been tuned up, washed, and gassed up. Mrs. Turner sat in the passenger seat clutching the urn with Ed in it. Denny briefly wondered if he should tell anyone he doesn’t have a drivers’ license, but the thought of two hundred dollars drove the thought right out of his feeble mind.
Helen liked to stop at every rest stop for a potty break, a super-sized coke to go, and a snack. Each time they stopped, Denny would dip into Gino’s package of cocaine and snort it into his big nose. On the third day, they crossed over the Virginia State line. They had only traveled twelve miles when traffic was at a standstill. There were easily thirty police cars on both sides of the road. About twenty feet in front of them, a police car was parked in the breakdown lane. Mrs. Turner got out, approached the patrol car, and said, “Excuse me officer, but what seems to be the problem?”
“Sorry ma’am but a nine nine-passenger van with about twenty Mexicans tipped over jus’’ yonder. They all jus’ ran into the woods on both sides of the road. We’re jus’ waiting on the dogs. As soon as we get the dogs into the woods, you will be on your way. Oh, the dogs’ jes jus’ got here.” Denny took had taken another quick snort of Gino’s cocaine, when he glanced up in the rear view mirror and saw police officers walking between the rows of cars with their barking dogs straining at their leashes. The plan was to walk the dogs to the head of the line and then disperse into the woods. Denny looked around, and the only place he saw to hide the cocaine was in Ed’s urn. As he quickly dumped the cocaine into the urn, he spilled some on his shirt and hands. He was unaware of the white ‘frosting’ around his nostrils. As the dogs headed for the van, they alerted on the black Cadillac.
Suddenly, traffic was permitted to flow with the exception of the Cadillac; police officers were shouting, “Get on the ground.” All the dogs were barking. There were so many cops surrounding the Cadillac, Helen couldn’t see Denny handcuffed on the ground. She kept demanding to know what’s happening. When the police told her, the dogs were not only trained to find people, but they were also narcotic dogs. And Denny was arrested. Helen fainted. Fortunately, two strong police officers caught her arms and gently lowered the large woman to the pavement. An ambulance arrived to take Helen to the hospital, and a tow truck arrived to remove the Cadillac.
In jail, Denny proudly told the incredulous detectives about Gino’s cocaine and the Mafia gang he was a member of. Denny told the detectives he would be released in a couple of hours because of his Mafia connections. The detectives bit their lips to stifle their grins.