THE REVEREND MISSUS RITA LYNNE PETTIMORE stormed across the highway toward the old Beaks residence. Vernon Beaks saw her coming. Stood on the porch and readied his rifle. The sunshine was as thick as he’d ever seen it.

“Again?!” Beaks shrieked as Pettimore approached, and, “Get off my property!” as she arrived.

“I will not, and I am not!” Rita Lynne barked back. “Why don’t you get off of my property?!”

Your property?” Beaks bristled. “What do you mean, your property, She-Woman of the Devil?!”

“You know damn well what I mean, Vernon Beaks! Say it with me! The meek shall inherit the Earth!

“Not meeks — Beaks. Off my property, heathen!”

“No, you’re the heathen!”

“No, you are!”

“No, you are!”

“I know you are, but what am I?”

“I know you are, but what am I?”

I know you are but what am I I know you are but what am I I know you are ?but . . .”


“Jinx you!”

What is this?!” Rita Lynne demanded, uncrumpling and thrusting the crudely penned reason for her visit into Vernon’s face.

THE CRUDELY PENNED DRAWING was one of Vernon’s, all right. Vernon was the only artist who drew cartoons of the good Reverend Briggs “Cowface” Pettimore — Rita Lynne’s husband — posed in ungodly ways with Guernsey cows.

“What about it?” said Vernon, sitting back down on the old couch on his porch.

Rita Lynne waved the drawing in his face. “This looks like my husband fornicating with a blotchy squirrel, you vile, demented, sickly, disease-ridden, verminous man!”

“That ain’t a squirrel, it’s a cow. You know — Cowface screwin’ a cow? Cow and cow? It’s funny. Why not lighten up and get a hoot out of it?”

It was true that Briggs Pettimore had been attired with the unfortunate nickname of Cowface soon after his birth. But it wasn’t meant in a bad way, and as luck had it, the inordinately ugly baby Briggs grew into a remarkably handsome young man before returning again to a distinctly bovine ernestborgninity in recent years. Cowface and Rita Lynne Pettimore ran a church/meth lab from the basement of their dirty white house on the other side of the highway.

“That is not a cow, Vernon!” said Rita Lynne. “Cows don’t have big, bushy tails.”

“How would you know what a cow looks like?” said Vernon. “Oh, wait — never mind. Hyeh! Now why don’t you mind your own business and go scampering back to Cowface! And make it quick, unless you want a backside full of rock salt!”

Rita Lynne shook her head, recrumpled the picture and tossed it benignly at the far corner of the porch. “And cows don’t have whiskers, either,” she said. “You dumb old hillbilly.”

A SHADED PORCH FROM WHICH to shoot rock salt at passing carloads of infidels and a clean place to draw dirty pictures of Cowface Pettimore — that’s all Vernon Beaks needed to be happy. Sometimes, for fun, he folded the pictures into paper airplanes and sent them sailing toward the Pettimores’ place on the other side of the two-lane highway. Beaks had launched 100 or more planes, but so far only an even dozen had made it past the shoulder.

Vernon Beaks had done it all. Visited Lincoln’s New Salem. Landed a 12-pound bass. Eaten grubs for breakfast and deviled eggs with blueberries and caviar for lunch.

In the Good Old DaysT, the Beaks family owned people. Paid cash up front for them to be kidnapped, and made them run the farm seven days a week for 300 years without paying out a dime. “That was freedom,” great-great-granddaddy Fillmore Beaks used to reminisce, when Vernon was a little boy. “Those were the days.”

Now Vernon could feel the clock turning, slowly but surely, back to the Good Old DaysT again. All he had to do was draw his pictures and wait it out.

VERNON SAT BACK DOWN on the old couch. It was late Sunday afternoon. Behind him, the dumpy little Beaks house shook with the commotion of Vernon’s dull, dumpy wife, Jean-Anne, trying to control their six dumpy, dimwitted but very fast kids. In front of him, though, was the highway. A quiet part of the highway, two lanes wide and the shoulder not 60 feet from Vernon’s front stoop.

Vernon had done some ciphering and studied some Scripture — not as much as some, but enough to know that it was the infidels in the city who caused taxes to go up, caused most of the world’s problems.

Occasionally, infidels would pull over to ask for directions to the lake. Vernon would pretend to oblige. He’d stroke the trigger in his jacket pocket, smile big and say, “You folks look like you’re from New York!” The infidels would usually smile back. Sometimes they’d even try to talk. Vernon would just smile and nod until they left.

THAT NIGHT, WHILE HER HUSBAND cooked up a fresh batch of Methedrine, the Reverend Missus rang up every preacher and medicine distributor she knew and told them about Vernon Beaks’ ungodly pictures. Early the following morning, the nation’s most trusted newspapers and cable networks were inundated with phone calls and e-mails from the Stop Vernon Coalition, and by week’s end, close to 30 million citizens the world over had taken to the streets to protest Vernon’s evil pictures.

“SQUIRRELS AIN’T COWS!” read some protesters’ signs. “GET OFF OURPROPERTY!” or “COWS DON’T HAVE BUSHY TAILS!” or “AIN’T GOT WHISKERS, NEITHER!” or “AMERICA DIGS BRIGGS!” read others. But most signs had no words at all. Just big, flattering drawings and photographs of the Reverend Cowface Pettimore happily cooking methyl benzedrine in his basement, with no other animals in sight.

ANOTHER WEEK PASSED before it was safe to go outside. Vernon Beaks sat in the shade, felt the heat closing in as the day’s first sedan approached. Fat sedan, bloated with freethinking city-infidels. He could smell ’em a mile away.

Beaks raised his rifle to his eye, followed the Pontiac through his homemade cross hairs.

Didn’t pull the trigger, though. Not today. Not Sunday.

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