Contributor: Gary Clifton

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In 1952, money in the neighborhood was tighter than wet underwear. Mom couldn't get many shifts in the chicken plant and we hadn't seen the old man since he ran off with that waitress from Omaha the year before. Any work was good work.
The smoking old truck sputtered up at 4:30 A.M. This was a strawberry day - pickers needed. I was nine that Summer and they wouldn't let a kid that young on the truck unless they were with an adult. I'd been climbing the side over the stock racks, but somebody snitched. Now the driver watched. Most of the adults were African American females - many with a string of kids attached. I asked Miz Wilson if I could follow her bunch as one of her kids.
She was old, maybe thirty-five, with multiple stomachs and a beautiful ebony face that couldn't stop smiling. "Squeeze between Isaac and Leroy. Nobody gon' see you a white boy in this dark, Paulie."
That day, the field had probably fifty workers - mostly women and kids. We got individual chits for pickings. By mid day, I'd turned in enough berries to have nearly a dollar. A kid worked good all day might make $2.50, if he could hustle and handle twelve hours bent over in the sun.
Unusual, a man was working that day - a skinny, wiry little dude with two days whiskers and penitentiary tattoos on both arms. I didn't think he rode in on the truck. I was careful looking at him lest he catch me with those cold, piercing blue eyes. Working two rows over, he whistled continuously - a monotone with no melody.
Zuber, a hired flunky was the supervisor - they called him "Row Boss". A big, mean bully with angry black eyes, he swatted me once for not working fast enough. He strutted up and down rows, feeling important - scared hell out of me. He straddled the row above the whistler. "Knock off that damned whistling."
"Why?" the slender man said upward, the blue eyes surprised.
Zuber bully-kicked him in the chest. Then the bloodbath. The little guy, probably a hundred pounds lighter, instantly had Zuber on his back, killing him. In a field with only a few women, no men, and a gaggle of kids, one man beating another to death was a full load.
The little guy was probably ready to quit on his own when Miz Wilson, two or three other ladies, and some older kids pulled him off. Zuber wasn't moving, his face, raw meat. Back in the neighborhood, I'd seen men shot and cut, but never saw one's face torn off.
The little guy ran across the field, stole a truck, and split. The Sheriff showed up, then an ambulance, and I only made $1.55 that day.
Next day, they had a new row boss. Two more years working that field and we never saw Zuber again. Everyone figured he died, but nobody cared enough to ask. I never told a soul, but the thought of Zuber in Hell had a certain ring to it. Wherever he was, I always figured he'd think twice before kicking a guy for whistling. If they ever caught that little guy, I never heard about it.
A lifetime later, someone whistles, I see Zuber's bloody face.

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Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has short fiction pieces published or pending on over thirty online sites. He is retired, and has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University
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