When I showed Jaybird the pistol, he gave me a withering stare.
“Where’d you git that gun, boy?” the old black man who was my best friend and mentor asked.
“I borrowed it from Dad. Late in the evening, me and my buddies shoot rats at the garbage dump a few miles from the university.”
“If the law catches you with that pistol, you’ll git just what you deserve: three ‘hots’ and a cot.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’ll end up in jail, where you’ll git three hot meals a day and a cot to sleep on.”
My promise not to take the pistol to school was a lie. Late in the day, when the rats began their nightly forays, my pals and I would hide behind bushes within pistol range of our victims, the population of which could only be described as swarming hordes.
We took turns shooting and kept score, determined by how many misses we registered, how many clean kills we scored, and how many rats we wounded that escaped, only to become victims of their fellow voracious garbage gastronomes. It was great fun while it lasted, but finally someone reported us.
As I pulled into the dormitory one Friday night, a policeman searched my car and found the pistol. Instead of heading out to pick up my girlfriend, I was handcuffed and carted off to jail.
The next morning, I had a visitor — the Dean of Men!
“I’ve arranged your release, but you’ll stand trial for unauthorized possession of a firearm. Furthermore, I called your father, and he is absolutely furious.”
Mama’s phone call didn’t help.
“Son,” she wailed, “Your father and I saved for years to pay for your education, and now the Dean informs us that you’ve repaid our efforts by killing rats instead of studying.”
In line with several hardened hoodlums, I entered the courtroom to stand before The Honorable Ruth Runyon, known as “Ruthless Ruth.”
Sitting between Dad and the Dean, I agonized while Ruthless meted out harsh sentences to my predecessors. Then the bailiff called my name.
“Young man,” Judge Runyon intoned in a stentorian voice that, I imagined, had been the death knell of many ne’er-do-wells now rotting in the state penitentiary, “you’re a disgrace to your family, this city, and the university. How do you plead?”
In a barely audible voice I whispered, “Guilty.”
The fine was bad enough — repaying Dad would require a summer of hard work in his Mississippi Delta cotton fields, but the judge saved the double whammy for last.
“The pistol you stole from your father has been confiscated — permanently.”
Dad went livid. That gun was a prized possession, one he brought back from his overseas service in World War II.
Outside the courthouse, Dad said to the Dean, “Sir, if you choose to let my son remain at the university, that’s your business, but if I were in your shoes, he’d be facing just what he deserves: three ‘hots’ and a cot.”
Oxford, Mississippi, resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed is a newspaper columnist, author and college teacher. His latest collection of short stories is available via Squarebooks.com at 662-236-2262.
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