Sure, I knew him. We all did.
Captain Yeah-Way. (Like, vs. “No-Way”?).
Dressed like a superhero in
yellow and red spandex. But no cape. Just that mask that covered his head and
face, so nobody knew who he was.
Masked or not, I knew.
All over town, you’d see him, doing good
deeds. Like picking up litter out
of the street. Once he almost got smashed by a Beamer. “Get outta the street!”
the driver yelled. “Ya crazy fuck!”
Jackson Pepper. Bald, and mean, like Lex Luthor.
Pepper hated cats, and
Captain Yeah-Way fed stray cats. The ones Pepper
Outside the old A & P Captain Yeah-Way would
squat, tossing dry food
to the feral cats, like crumbs with birds. Pigeons liked him, too. Even
squirrels mobbed around him. Like Dr. Doolittle, but he never talked to
“A burn victim,” the Town Ghouls claimed.
“S’got no face left.” “Tongue burned
out, too,” people swore, up and down. “Walks stiff ‘cos of a wooden leg.”
“Let ‘em talk.” Dan Feeney laughed. My
best bartender, and an ex-cop, he was a “people” person. Listened to their stories,
laughed at their jokes. Knew how mean they could be . . .
Picturing “Captain Yeah-Way” as a
charred, tongue-less, cripple.
“He’s blind,” Sloan said. A regular, who
drank shots with morning coffee. “Lost his eyes in Afghanistan.”
I tried not to laugh. “What, so he feels
his way around town?”
“Let’s get him a dog!” Dan said. “Everybody
“All the dough he collects,” Sloan
sneered, “Can get his own.”
Charity-wise, Captain Yeah-Way cleaned
up. Toy drives, natural disasters. When he walked in, kids cheered like he was
Santa. Old faces creaked with smiles. Money poured in . . .
Like it grew on that tree that smashed Jackson
“In fact,” Sloan went on. “Buy himself
wheels.” He threw a ten on the bar.
Smiling, Dan limped to the register.
A wooden leg, people said.
I wondered if Sloan was too drunk to notice.
Rumor was, Jackson Pepper aimed right for Captain
Yeah-Way that time he
almost hit him. When that tree crushed his Beamer, it was karma, for sure.
Like superpowers had flipped the tree over.
Afterward, Pepper stormed in here, rushed over
to the bar.
Dan was smiling. “The usual?” He poured
Pepper’s IPA, ducked the punch
just in time.
How fast shit hits the fan has always amazed me.
But that week was the
Someone (Pepper. Who else?) laid out enough poison
to kill all the feral
cats on the block. Unaware, neighbors walking their dogs got a horrible
surprise. Vets’ offices were mobbed for days.
At the animal shelter, Captain Yeah-Way collected
donations, so adoption
fees could be waived. Grieving pet owners took selfies with him. In one pic, he
was inside a cage, three dogs sprawled in his lap. On his shoulder perched a
“The ones without claws,” Dan told
me later, “bite the most.”
Outside one vet’s office, six-year-old Mandi
Rutnik sobbed. “Chewy” was
her dying Corgi. “Chewy’s going away.” Most passersby smiled, sadly.
But one person stopped.
And Mandi disappeared.
“It’s Pepper!” Sloan said. “Cats
wasn’t enough.” He slammed down his shot
glass. “He’s killing kids now!”
“Maybe she’s not dead,” I said.
Dan looked grim. She’s dead, his
Like they could see through walls.
Days later, Mandi showed up in a suitcase, in
a closet, in an abandoned
house. Two doors down from Pepper’s. A prime poisoning spot. Dead felines
littered the lawn.
At the bar, we watched the news. “Stay away!”
Pepper told the cops. “You
can’t prove I did it!”
But you did, Dan’s eyes said.
When he was a cop, those eyes helped a lot.
I wondered who else knew that.
Was Pepper really like Lex Luthor, who enjoyed
toying with Superman? Was
it all a game, or for real?
If it was real, who would win?
My late husband, another ex-cop, kept a Glock
behind the bar. “For
protection,” he’d claimed, though no one ever tried to hold us up. Nobody even
stiffed on their tab.
For the past year, each day I reached down and
gently touched that Glock.
It was my connection to him.
That, and hiring this new guy. The best bartender,
And the best shot.
This morning, the Glock was gone.
It was Captain Yeah-Way who found the body. On
the overgrown lawn of the
house, where Mandi was killed.
Like a poisoned cat, Jackson Pepper was splayed
out, in the grass. Eyes
wide open, two bullets lodged in his brain.
One for Mandi; one for the animals.
The scene filled up instantly, with cops, reporters,
ambulance. The Town
Ghouls craned their necks till they got whiplash.
For the first time, Captain Yeah-Way wore a cape.
“Spinning around!” one person posted
on social media. “Ready to leap off a
building!” another wrote. All bullshit.
In the photo, he stood up straight, the cape wrapped
Like a well-kept secret.