Issue > Fiction
James Robert Campbell

James Robert Campbell

James Robert "Bob" Campbell is a native of Amherst, Texas, where he grew up working in his father's blacksmith shop. He took a degree in English at West Texas A&M University and has been a reporter, photographer and editor at nine newspapers in Texas and Colorado. He covers courts and politics at the Midland Reporter-Telegram in West Texas.

The Bad Teddy


You are not insane, at least no more than many people in their imaginations. They fantasize about doing things like you did, though not for the same reasons. For a long time, you had been increasingly distressed that some license plates were wonderful, some pretty good, some so-so, some bad and a few very bad. The very bad are the ones you finally decided to take emphatic action against and not just the bad plates but also the people who had them on their cars, pickup trucks, tractor-trailer rigs and sport utility vehicles. It might theoretically be possible to be a good person and have a bad license plate, but you felt and knew that they would not be displaying those plates if they did not agree with them.

You live in a two-story house less than a mile from Loop 492 on the west side of Texton, which is a city of about two hundred thousand in West Texas. You're on the south side of a four-lane divided highway known as Rondale Road because it leads to Rondale, New Mexico, one hundred-twenty miles west.

Your identity is as yet unknown. The police and others think you are a gun nut of some stripe, but they're wrong. You only have one gun, but it is a good one, a Bushmaster AR-15 223-caliber assault rifle. The original models were used by American soldiers in Vietnam, and they have been improved a good deal since then. You are not a former soldier or a hunter, but you have practiced with your AR a lot and are quite good with it. Your parents owned a big cotton farm with oil wells and left you so much money that you don't have to work, although you went to Texton University and took a degree in sociology. You've been diagnosed as having schizotypal syndrome, but that doesn't mean you are schizophrenic, just that you do not relate well to people and may develop peculiar ideas.

Having been religious with idealistic tendencies, you stopped attending church as a young adult and developed an interest in numerology that became an obsession. You read numerology books and began interpreting every set of numbers you saw without considering the sinister aspects that were becoming more prominent. You started noticing untoward numbers and letters on license plates on Loop 492 and would have said every tenth or twelfth vehicle had one of the bad or very bad kinds. Here are a couple of examples. A white Chevrolet pickup had KUS-7080. That's "CUSS" or "SUCK" with seven plus eight making fifteen, meaning six and the Devil. An old blue Lincoln had ADB-8122, meaning "BAD-13." The import is obvious. On the good side, a red Toyota Camry had KYS-4111, meaning "KISS" or "SKY-7," an excellent message, and a black Chrysler New Yorker had AAB-2205, or "BAA-9," meaning the sheep want something different, and you can't blame them for that.

It was exhilarating, by far the most stimulating thing you had ever done. You have two pickups, a new red one and an older black one that still ran well. You made mud to obscure the license plates, which had good messages on both vehicles. They had tried to give you some so-so ones at the Texton County Tax Assessor's Office, but you made them keep getting others until they proffered some you liked. You put your AR-15 in the black pickup with the butt up and the muzzle in the floorboard, drove to the Loop and started around it, going south on the outside. You didn't see any bad plates for awhile and were thinking all the people with bad plates had been warned. Then a blue Ford F-150 passed, going fast. His plate was "STZ-9601," or "ZTS-16," making fun of you because you had had acne as a teenager.

You gunned it, came up to his left rear and fired five shots into that part of the pickup. He looked around wild-eyed, and you fired twice more to show him what was happening. He jerked his steering wheel hard right and ran off the Loop and through the grass to the access road. He may have been diddling someone's wife or have owed money to a loan shark, but he got the idea in a hurry. You cut across the median, got going the other way and made it home in a few minutes, putting the black pickup into your two-vehicle garage and leaving the red one outside. The sirens began soon after you made it inside, and you admit to having enjoyed the TV news and were looking forward to seeing the Texton Ledger in the morning.

It was getting so sensational, being on all three TV stations and in the Ledger each day, that you decided to get off the Loop for awhile. You drove up Rondale Road in the late afternoon for a new target, something different, because the city cops were all over the Loop. You had them so fired up that you knew they would shoot to kill if they caught you running, even though nobody had been hit except for a pickup driver who caught a bullet fragment in the calf of one leg above his boot.

You'd gone up Rondale Road about twenty-five miles when an eighteen-wheeler hauling cattle tail-gated you really closely and then turned wildly into the passing lane, sloshing urine and feces over the side of the trailer. This truck really stank, and the plate read, "HTT-4621," which could have been interpreted "HOT-13" or "HATE-13." It doesn't necessarily stop a truck to shoot the outside dual tire, so you came up and shot the left front tire by the driver, who was a skinny cowboy with whiskers and tobacco stains on his cheeks. You appreciated that driving a cattle truck is not the best trucking job, but there is a good way and a bad way to do anything, particularly if it's something distasteful.

This guy was armed and fired a couple of shots with a semi-automatic pistol, one hitting your hood near the windshield. He was having to stop, so you gunned it by him and turned off onto a farm road to work your way home across the countryside, figuring Rondale Road would be cop-heavy. Most of your adventures had been on Loop 492, but after this one the media started calling you "The Rondale Sniper." Of course, you were not working anything like a sniper, but you guessed it was snappy and fit the headlines.

Getting as hot as the Mideast in August, you decided to lie low for awhile. The cops could only run the Loop and Rondale Road unproductively so many times until they would let their guard down, you thought. You knew that at this point you should stop and relish the memories, retire, so to speak, and be thankful not to have been caught, but you conceded that it had become a need you couldn't control. The days and nights of sitting at home, watching Rondale Road or driving unarmed around town, took on a wistfulness for that high excitement; and yes, you had loved the media. Your purpose had not been to terrorize the public, just the motorists with the bad plates and bad purposes, and you felt the public might understand and maybe empathize if you were arrested and explained.

You waited for a whole month to go out again. There were still a lot of evil drivers who deserved to be terrified, so you loaded your AR-15 a little before five and began cruising the Loop. You passed two city policemen who didn't react to your red pickup, possibly because you had used the black one more, and no cops were in sight when you came up behind a terrible one, an old brown Lincoln with a plate saying "HLL-6066." You did not want to hit the man and didn't. After all, he might have borrowed it. But you pulled onto the shoulder to give yourself a propitious field of fire and riddled the lower trunk. The gasoline tank exploded, and the driver stopped it and got out, running onto the access road, you saw, looking in your rearview mirror. That one alarmed you, so you got off on the nearest exit and headed downtown. You had always rushed for home before and put your pickup away, but now you had to get off the street any way you could. You stopped outside the Glad to See You Cafe, rolled the windows up, put the rifle on the floorboard under some newspapers and locked the doors. You decided to have something to eat and had just been brought your ribeye steak and baked potato when you noticed all the customers leaving. Two men in suits were speaking quietly to them, and they were leaving with their food and drinks still on the tables. You had understood that you were caught before the men pulled pistols in front of and behind you and said to put your hands up. You had always intended to submit if confronted and did so.

You have hired an attorney who says he can get you committed to a state hospital. He says you may never be released, but it will still be preferable to prison. You don't disagree. You recognize that your behavior was unacceptable. Your purpose was valid at the outset, but after awhile it became an addiction. "HLL-6066" was an hallucination, you learn.

Texton had a homegrown rock and roll star in the 1950's, Teddy Martin, who called his band "The Songbirds." He was a lovable guy whose big hit was an anthem of teenage love, "Hold Hands." Adding to his mystique, he died in a car wreck at the height of his renown. You have the same name, and your lawyer refers to you by your given name with an intonation aimed at eliciting compassion or pity. He explains the good-bad license plate thing in such a way as to suggest you are bananas. You understand, but you wish he would explain it more comprehensively, which you hope to get a chance to at your committal. Before in Texton, there was one well-known "Teddy." Now there are two, the good one and the bad. You are the bad Teddy.

Poetry

Jason Morphew

Jason Morphew
Evangelical Christianity

Poetry

Candice M. Kelsey

Candice M. Kelsey
This Is The Place

Poetry

Gerardo Pacheco Matus

Gerardo Pacheco Matus
I've Been Born A Thousand Nights