Small Great Things(10)

Written By: Jodi Picoult



“North American Death Squad,” Raine said. “It’s kind of our thing.”

I wanted one of those Tshirts so bad. “So, like, how do you get to be part of it?” I asked, as casually as I could manage.

One of the other guys laughed. “You get asked,” he said.

I decided at that moment I was going to do whatever it took to get an invitation.

We drove for about an hour and then Raine got off an exit, turning left at a handwritten sign on a stick that said simply IE. There were more signs like this, indicating turns through cornfields and past sagging barns and even through a field of milling cows. As we crested a ridge, I saw about a hundred cars parked in a muddy field.

It looked like a carnival. There was a stage, and a band playing so loud my heart thumped like a backbeat. There were families milling around eating corn dogs and fried dough, toddlers balanced on their fathers’ shoulders wearing Tshirts that said I’M THE WHITE CHILD YOU’RE SECURING THE RACE FOR! Meat wove around my feet on his leash, getting tangled as he scarfed down bits of popcorn that had been dropped. A guy clapped Raine on the shoulder and gave him a big reunion-style hello, leaving me to wander a few feet away toward a shooting range.

A fat man with eyebrows crawling like caterpillars across his brow grinned at me. “You want to give it a go, boy?”

There was a kid about my age firing at a target that was pinned up against a stump pile. He handed the semiautomatic Browning to the old man and then went to retrieve his bull’s-eye. It was a profile of a man with an exaggerated, hooked nose. “Looks like you killed that Jew, Gunther,” the man said, grinning. Then he scooped Meat up in his arms and pointed to a table. “I’ll hold the pooch,” he told me. “You pick the one you want.”

There were stacks of targets: more Jewish profiles, but also black ones, with giant lips and sloping foreheads. There was Martin Luther King, Jr., in a bull’s-eye with words printed across the top: MY DREAM DID COME TRUE.

For a moment I felt sick to my stomach. The pictures reminded me of political cartoons we had been studying in history class, gross exaggerations that led to world wars. I wondered what sorts of companies manufactured targets like this, because they sure as hell weren’t being sold in places like Wal-Mart’s hunting aisle. It was as if there was a whole secret society I’d never known about, and I’d just been whispered the password for admission.

I snagged a target with a bushy Afro bursting through the borders of the bull’s-eye. The man affixed it to a clothesline. “Can’t even tell it’s a silhouette,” he said with a snicker. He put Meat on the table to sniff at the targets as he zipped mine back to the edge of the stump pile. “You know how to handle a weapon?” he asked.

I’d taken shots with my grandpa’s handgun, but I’d never used anything like this. I listened to the man explain how the gun worked; then I put on the headphones and goggles for protection, tucked the stock against my shoulder, squinted, and squeezed the trigger. There was a volley of shots, like a coughing fit. The sound drew Raine’s attention, and he clapped, impressed, as the target zipped back to me with three clean shots in the forehead. “Look at you,” he said. “A natural.”

Raine folded the target and tucked it into his back pocket, so he could show his friends later how good a marksman I was. I took Meat’s leash again, and we walked across the meeting grounds. On the stage, a man was grandstanding. His presence was so commanding that his voice became a magnet, and I found myself being pulled to see him more clearly. “I want to tell you all a little story,” the man said. “There was a nigger in New York City, homeless, of course. He was walking through Central Park and several people heard him ranting, saying that he would punch a White man in his sleep. But these people, they didn’t realize we are fighting a war. That we are protecting our race. So they did not act. They ignored the threats as the raving of a crazy fool. And what happened? This beast of the field approached a White Anglo—a man like you, maybe, or me, who was doing nothing but living the life God intended him to live—a man who cared for his ninety-year-old mother. This beast of the field punched this man, who fell down, struck his head on the pavement, and died. This White man, who had only been taking a walk in the park, suffered a fatal injury. Yet, I ask you—what happened to the nigger? Well, my brothers and sisters…absolutely nothing.”

I thought of my brother’s killer, walking free out of a courtroom. I watched the people around me nod and clap, and thought: I am not alone.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“Francis Mitchum,” Raine murmured. “He’s one of the old guard. But he’s, like, mythic.” He said the speaker’s name the way a pious man spoke of God—part whisper, part prayer. “You see the spiderweb on his elbow? You can’t get that tat until you’ve killed someone. For every kill, you get a fly inked.” Raine paused. “Mitchum, he’s got ten.”

“Why do niggers never get charged with hate crimes?” Francis Mitchum asked, a rhetorical question. “Why are they being given a free pass? They would not even be domesticated, if not for the help of Whites. Look at where they came from, in Africa. There’s no civilized government. They’re all murdering each other in the Sudan. The Hutus are killing the Tutsis. And they’re doing it in our country too. The gangs in our cities—that’s just tribal warfare among niggers. And now, they’re coming after Anglos. Because they know they can get away with it.” His voice rose as he looked out at the crowd. “Killing a nigger is equal to killing a deer.” Then he paused. “Actually, I take that back. At least you can eat venison.”

Jodi Picoult's Books