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Authors: Rick Shefchik

Amen Corner

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Title Page

Amen Corner

Rick Shefchik

Publisher Information

Poisoned Pen Press

Digital Edition converted and published by Andrews UK Limited 2010

www.andrewsuk.com

Copyright © 2007 by Rick Shefchik

ISBN: 9781615951956

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

The people and events described or depicted in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to actual incidents or individuals is unintended and coincidental.

Poisoned Pen Press

6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

www.poisonedpenpress.com

[email protected]

Dedication

For Barbara

Acknowledgments

Thanks to John Camp for suggesting the idea and for generously providing his expertise and encouragement.

Thanks to Dan Kelly for his editing skills, suggestions, enthusiasm and friendship.

Thanks to George Eskola for the hospitality.

Prologue

Saturday, April 5

The thick-necked, small-mouthed guard named Dewey opened the door to Lee Doggett's prison cell at 8:01 a.m.

“Big day for you, Doggett,” Dewey said. “Eight years, huh? C'mon, grab your stuff. Warden wants to say so long.”

“You're late,” Doggett said, glowering at the apathetic state employee who'd just stolen another minute of his freedom. Doggett was tempted to sink his fingers into the soft, stubbly flesh of Dewey's neck and snap his spinal cord like a celery stalk, then haul the guard's gelatinous bulk to the back of the cell and smash his face to pulp on the rim of the steel toilet. He could do it, easily; he'd worked out in the prison weight room from the day he arrived at Reidsville, with the sole purpose of turning himself into an executioner. But he wouldn't waste his talents on Dewey, even though the lazy pig had forced him to spend 60 extra seconds in the 6-by-12-foot box that had been his home for the past 2,848 terrifying, humiliating, rage-filled days and nights.

“Aw, so what?” Dewey said. “Like you got plans or somethin'?”

The same plans I've had from the day they sent me to this urinal eight years ago, Doggett was tempted to scream at him. I'm going to Augusta to kill my father.

*

There was no one to meet Doggett when he walked out the main entrance of the Georgia State Penitentiary at Reidsville. His mother was dead, his wife and kid long gone—off to Florida, last he'd heard. He put the nylon gym bag he'd arrived with eight years ago over his shoulder, refusing to turn around and look at the bleached-white walls, barred windows, and cyclone fences of the prison he was leaving behind. It didn't matter where he'd been. All that mattered was where he was going.

The Masters would begin in less than a week. His father was always in Augusta for the Masters.

The April sun had already pushed the temperature into the sixties. Sweat began trickling down the small of his back as he walked the quarter-mile to the state highway that led into Reidsville. The sun felt warm and strange on his face—there was something different about the way the sun shone and the wind blew when you were outside the confines of the prison yard. It felt good, but it felt loose and wild, too—like no one could tell nature what to do. That's the way he felt, too.

Traffic was light, maybe three or four cars per minute. No one would be crazy enough to pick up a hitchhiker that close to a state prison, but Doggett hung out his thumb anyway as he walked along, thinking about his route: North into Reidsville, northeast on U.S. 280 to Claxton, then north on U.S. 25 through Statesboro to Augusta. He'd memorized the route from maps in the prison library, since he'd never been to Reidsville before the judge had sentenced him there for printing and selling counterfeit Masters badges and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell. His idiot public defender had assured him that trafficking in bogus passes to a sporting event normally got you three-to-five, at most. The dumb son of a bitch apparently didn't realize that normal rules don't apply to Augusta National.

Someone at the club put pressure on the Richmond County police and the district attorney. The D.A. pressed for the maximum and the judge threw the book at him: 15 years, no parole. A year later, the Georgia Sentence Review Panel agreed that Doggett's sentence was extreme and cut it to eight, with credit for time served while waiting for his trial.

The drug charge was the part they couldn't ignore, but it was pure bullshit; the cops planted the cocaine in his house. And he knew why: His father wanted to see Doggett in prison—with luck, to die there. He was a big man at Augusta National, and the cops would be glad to do him a favor.

They'd wish they hadn't.

In addition to the weight room, Doggett killed a lot of time in the prison library. You could learn a lot just thumbing through the magazines and newspapers. You could learn, for instance, that there was a women's group raising hell about Augusta National still not having a woman member. There were going to be protests again this year; the media and the TV networks were going to make a big deal about it. The chairman of Augusta National, some corporate button-down named David Porter, kept telling the world that the club would admit a woman when the time was right, not when they were told to do it. But now some of the members were talking to the press, saying the time might be right.

Everybody was pissed off. Perfect cover.

You could learn a lot from the guys you met in prison, too. Like Bernard Pettibone. The guy was a certifiable lunatic, but he knew more about bombs than an Al Qaeda terrorist. Mailbox bombs, letter bombs, car bombs, fertilizer bombs, shoe bombs, pipe bombs—if something or someone needed blowing up, Pettibone knew how to do it, with the cheapest materials.

“Ain't no trick to makin' things explode,” Pettibone told Doggett one night in the mess hall. “It's basic chemistry.”

Pettibone was doing thirty to life for maiming a county judge with a mailbox bomb. The judge had ordered Pettibone to clean up the junk around his farmhouse, and Pettibone had taken exception to the infringement on his property rights. The judge lost his left arm up to the elbow, and the left side of his face. Pettibone would have gotten away with it if he hadn't decided to leave another one for the county sheriff. It went off on the front seat of Pettibone's car while he was parked in front of the sheriff's house. Pettibone was luckier than the judge; he lost only two fingers on his right hand, a chunk of his thigh, and all the hair on the right side of his head. With his wispy blond hair hanging lank on the other side of his pale, scarred skull, he looked like a baseball with the stuffing coming out.

“See, explosions is just a increase in volume from oxidation, causin' a violent release of hot gas,” Pettibone told him. “You just need your fuel, your accelerant, your container, and a spark. The spark gets the oxidation goin', and when the container can't hold the pressure no more, you got your explosion. Get me?”

Doggett understood chemistry—he'd understood all that school shit, but he knew he was never going to college, so why work at it?

Pettibone seemed to think further explanation was necessary.

“Here's your fuel.”

He scooped up a spoonful of mashed potatoes from his plate.

“Here's your container.”

He spooned the potatoes into the empty apple juice carton.

“Here's your accelerant.”

He poured a few drops of water from a plastic cup onto a piece of napkin and placed it in the carton, on top of the potatoes.

“Then alls you need is a fuse—” he twisted up a paper napkin and stuffed it into the carton— “and a spark.”

He pretended to light the napkin, and stared it for several seconds with a kind of intensity that suggested he was watching a real fuse burn down. Doggett had seen it all in prison, but this guy still gave him the creeps. Then Pettibone brought his fist down hard on top of the carton, splitting the sides and sending mashed potatoes spurting onto them and all the nearby inmates.

“Godammit, Pettibone, you fuckin' psycho!” one of the spattered prisoners yelled, diving across the table at him while Pettibone bayed with delight like a hound dog. The guards rushed to the table and hauled Pettibone off to solitary.

The lesson had not been lost on Doggett. If a total nutjob like Pettibone could make a bomb, he could, too.

*

He walked through Reidsville, a typical Georgia town with a few gas stations, feed stores and restaurants, and began hitch-hiking again north of town. He was halfway to Bellville when a farmer in a powder blue Chevy pickup eased over onto the dirt shoulder and pushed the passenger side door open.

“Gettin' too hot to walk,” the farmer said. “Hop in.”

“Thanks,” Doggett said.

“Where y'all headed?” the farmer asked.

He had a weather-beaten face and wore a greasy green seed cap with a plastic adjustable strap in back, a denim work shirt, newer Levis with the cuffs rolled up, and a pair of battered brown work boots. He looked briefly at Doggett, but didn't seem to give much thought to why a man wearing a denim shirt, jeans, and carrying a gym bag would be hitch-hiking on this road. Doggett slid into the front seat and the farmer pulled back onto the highway. George Jones was on the radio, wailing about getting drunk; Christ, Doggett thought, isn't that guy dead yet?

“Augusta,” Doggett answered.

“Ain't goin' that far,” the farmer said. “Just headin' back to my place north of Claxton. I had to run down to Reidsville for some fertilizer.”

He gestured over his shoulder to the bed of his pickup, where Doggett saw dozens of 25-pound sacks of fertilizer stacked to the back window.

“What are you growing?”

“Corn, mostly.”

“Planting kind of late, aren't you?”

“Crop's already in. I'm just stocking up for next year. Sale at the co-op this week. You farm?”

“No,” Doggett said. “I used to work on the grounds crew at a golf course.”

“Uhm,” the farmer said, unimpressed.

Doggett took a good look at the farmer. He wasn't particularly big, but he was wiry, the kind who had ropes for muscles from working with farm supplies and equipment every day of the year. His kids would be grown now, most likely gone. There would be a wife, though.

“You want some help with those bags?” Doggett asked.

“Naw,” the farmer said.

“Least I can do for the ride,” Doggett said.

“You ain't gotta be someplace?”

“Not today.”

“Wife's in Atlanta this weekend,” the farmer said after a while. “I guess I wouldn't mind a hand.”

*

By the time they got to the farm, an 80-acre spread on the northwest side of Claxton with a neat white clapboard farmhouse and a pole barn, Doggett found out that Don Robey's kids had moved away right after high school, passing up farming for the lights of Atlanta. His wife Marge was visiting them, and wasn't due back home until Wednesday night.

By the time he'd carried the first sack of fertilizer into the pole barn, Doggett had spotted the axe.

He stayed in the barn and waited until Robey had a sack of fertilizer over his shoulder, about to drop it on the pile with the others. Doggett came up behind him and swung the blunt part of the axe like a baseball bat, catching the farmer flush on the back of the head with a crunching thud and sending him sprawling onto the fertilizer bags. He was prepared to start hacking at Robey, but he didn't need to. The first blow had killed him.

He waited until just after the sun set and buried Robey and the axe a good 75 yards out in the cornfield, making the grave look exactly like the furrows around it.

He returned to the farmhouse and wandered through, looking for anything that might prove useful. He found a pair of work gloves, a loaded Smith & Wesson revolver, a box of bullets and a good, sharp hunting knife in the basement; upstairs, in an unused bedroom with a dusty Dominique Wilkins poster on the wall, he found $6,700 in a cigar box in a desk drawer.

He fried up some hamburger in the kitchen, drank a couple of beers, and watched TV until nearly midnight, then drove Robey's pickup into Statesboro. He found an unlighted football practice field on the campus of Georgia Southern University and parked on the street next to the small wood and metal grandstand. He filled an old metal watering can he'd found in Robey's pole barn with fertilizer from the bag he'd left in the truck bed. He doused one of Robey's pit-stained undershirts with gasoline and put it in the watering can, on top of the fertilizer. Then he rolled up a full sheet of newspaper into a cylinder, unscrewed the broad, perforated metal cap on the watering can's spout and stuffed the newspaper into the spout until it touched the gas-soaked shirt.

Doggett took one more look around. No one in sight. Okay, Pettibone—let's see if you knew what the fuck you were talking about.

He walked under the grandstand and placed the can beneath the fourth row of the six-tiered structure. He lit the newspaper with a kitchen match and ran to the idling truck. He was a block down the street when the can blew up with a boom that could have been heard on the other side of the campus—maybe the other side of town. He could see sheared-off wooden planks and twisted chunks of metal railing strewn around the smoky field as lights began turning on in the nearby dorms.

Pettibone, you sick, beautiful bastard.

Doggett drove north on U.S. 25 through downtown Statesboro, grinning and smacking the steering wheel with his open palms. He hadn't been this elated since—when? Not in the last eight years, that was for sure.

It was 80 miles to Augusta.

See you soon—Dad…

Chapter One

Sunday, April 6

Sam Skarda sat on the front porch of his South Minneapolis bungalow and waited for his cab to arrive. It was a cool morning in early April, but the sunshine felt warm on his face through the budding branches of the towering elm trees that lined the street. A pair of robins hopped across the mottled lawn.

BOOK: Amen Corner
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