John H. Tucker (thanks, Barry): Here is the friend. Arms cradling the boy he has known since fifth grade. The boy, 17, is on the ground, foaming at the mouth. Moaning, twitching, tongue bleeding—bitten from the convulsions.
“Pull through!” shouts the friend, holding Timmy Castaneda in his lap. “Timmy, pull through!”
“Turn him on his side,” instructs the 911 dispatcher.
“Come on, help me get him on his side!”
It’s around 1 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2012. Several teenagers have been hanging out deep in an Apex woods, requiring a 15-minute trek: walk down the hill from the Beaver Creek Cinema, enter the forest, veer right at the log, then go up the path, across the tarp, over the creek, through the small pines, down the ditch, over the gully. When you arrive at the V-shaped trees, you are there.
This is their special place. A makeshift fort is erected with nails between trees, its wooden planks wrapped in chicken wire, draped by tarps and crusty posters that advertise automotive products. Sap from a pine tree burns, keeping the area warm.
Kevin Hardy: LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. — This place doesn’t look like much.
The brick exterior is falling away. The homemade sign standing by the dead-end gravel road is written in crooked stencil lettering.
“Tabernacle Church of God. Pastor Andrew Hamblin. Friday 7:30. Sunday 1:00.”
But there is no meekness inside this windowless, concrete box of a church. Sound explodes and escalates, a chaotic jumble of tambourines, electric guitar and humming.
At times the volume is so loud it rattles the foundation. Foreheads gleam from olive oil anointing, tongues mumble unrecognizably, hallelujahs scream to the ceiling, arms stretch wide.
There will be a miracle tonight.
It’s in the air.
People can feel it.
Someone could drink from a pickle jar filled with strychnine or lye, but not fall dead. Someone could turn a propane torch to his hand and feel no pain. Someone could wrangle a rattlesnake and not feel its fangs.
Todd C. Frankel (Thanks, Mark): CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO.
His ex-wife gave him $25 for gas. She didn’t need to. But she did. Somehow he had to get to court tomorrow. His borrowed Jeep was out of gas. And as was often the case these days, Scott Moyers was out of money and long ago out of options. So his ex-wife agreed to help. She didn’t want any more missed hearings. No more arrests. No more excuses. He was going to go before that judge and take some measure of responsibility for all that he’d done.
That was the plan, at least. But tomorrow was still far away.
So Scott got a ride from his neighbor Don up to his ex-wife’s house, where his family lived, what used to be his home, in a nicer part of town, up on the hill there, a place where he could sit on the back deck and breathe. Just breathe. But the house wasn’t his anymore. The understanding wife — a doctor — was now his ex. The kids — two boys and a girl — were distant. The job covering crime and courts for the Southeast Missourian newspaper was gone. And so was the money, at least $250,000. He lost it all. In less than a year.
Still, he held that $25 in cash and thought about taking it down to score some meth, speed, a little go fast. Hard to shake those thoughts. Even now. Maybe even more so now.
But he held. He fought the pull. He put $3 into the gas can and gave Don $5 for the ride and drove his Jeep to a gas station, where he bought a pack of smokes and sunk the rest into the tank. He was broke again. His day in court was coming.
Don’t miss this Bronx Banter interview with the great Pete Dexter: (Thanks to Oliver.)
Bronx Banter: What kind of reporter were you when you began?
Pete Dexter: I didn’t have a specialty or anything. I was kind of looked on as a guy who could write. I was a careful writer and a careless reporter. Reporting is a talent but it’s also just a matter of rolling up your sleeves. A guy like Bob Woodward didn’t get where he is by being charming or having a way with people I don’t think. He just did it by following all the rules and taking things as far as they could be humanly taken. That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I knew that early on. I didn’t get any satisfaction out of breaking a story. It just didn’t appeal to me.
BB: You started in the Watergate Era when Woodward and Bernstein made the whole idea of being a reporter something else, a star.
PD: Yeah, all of a sudden kids were going to journalism school so they could take down a president. It was a passing fad, I guess, but it lasted ten years anyway. You used to call them “serious young journalists.” You sign up for that, and…if you don’t have your heart in it, if that’s not compulsive in you, if you don’t feel like you have to do it, you’re probably not going to be much of a reporter. Early on I recognized that I was going to have to come from some other direction. On the other hand, I loved being part of the newspaper, I loved that feeling when big stories were breaking, though it wasn’t me that broke them.
Michael Kruse: Gated, guarded Wingfield North, outside Orlando in Longwood, is a collection of about a hundred houses with pillars and pools and new BMWs parked out front. Golden evening light gleams through the branches of regal oaks draped with Spanish moss. One of the selling points is its proximity to lush woods, coupled with a stated commitment to the preservation of such wild, natural beauty. Another selling point: privacy. It’s set up to keep out — nuisances and intrusions, the uninvited, the unexpected. The residents of Wingfield North purchased not only an above average amount of stucco but also a perceived license to not be bothered.
“Is this a fire or medical emergency?” the Seminole County 911 dispatcher asked.
This was just after 8 at night the first Monday of December.
“Medical,” the man answered. “A woman’s been, I think — mauled by a bear. She’s pleading for quick, quick help.”
“Okay, and you said it was a bear, for sure?”
“She thinks it was a bear.”
“And how old is she?”
“I can’t tell. She’s so bloody I can’t tell.”
“Is she awake?” the dispatcher asked.
“She’s awake. My wife’s with her, holding her …”
“Okay. Is the bleeding serious?”
“You know, her whole face, it’s bloody. She’s moaning in pain.”
“Hurry,” the man said. “Hurry.”
Sonia Smith: Andy and Patty Grove never planned to settle outside of Texas. Their roots in the state reach back many generations. Patty’s ancestors came to Texas on a wagon train from Tennessee in the 1830’s (an elementary school in Houston is named for her great-grandfather); Andy’s father owned a tract of land that is now part of the posh Houston neighborhood of Hedwig Village. The two grew up a mere five miles away from each other in West Houston, where they attended Stratford and Memorial, rival high schools in Spring Branch ISD. They met while volunteering with Campus Crusade for Christ as undergraduates at the University of Houston in the late seventies. After marrying, in 1982, they settled in Arlington, where Andy took a job as the campus director of the University of Texas at Arlington’s branch of International Students, a Christian organization that works with foreign-exchange students. In the early nineties, on a camping trip to Arkansas with some of these students, the Groves fell in love with the natural beauty of the Ozarks and traded their brick house in the suburbs for a 140-acre farm in Arkansas’s War Eagle Valley. There, in a one-hundred-year-old house built from rough-cut oak, they set about raising their five children in a rural idyll. They bred quarter horses and cattle and hunted and fished throughout the year. Summers were spent swimming in the clear waters of War Eagle Creek, picking blackberries, and horseback riding on the trails that crisscrossed Seven Saddles Farm.
They also worked to instill in their children a love for the Lord. They attended the First Baptist Church of Huntsville, and all their kids regularly participated in the church’s youth group. Their third child, Catherine, showed a particular devotion. She was bright and inquisitive, with a warm, broad smile. In addition to attending Sunday school and singing in the choir, she toted her Bible along with her to Huntsville High School, where she participated in a Bible study after class. She excelled in secular pursuits as well, playing forward on a competitive club soccer team and earning induction into the National Honor Society. After graduation, in 2005, she went on to study Spanish at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Having formed many friendships with the international students whom the Groves had hosted, she hoped to travel widely throughout South America doing mission work.
Charles Bethea: “What’s happenin’, my friend?”
Vernon Keenan is saying hello to a large, shy-looking man named John Gibson in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s main elevator, as the doors open and Keenan steps in. The top of his balding head reaches just past Gibson’s shoulders.
“I’m fine, sir. How are you?”
“You been behaving yourself?” The doors close.
“This man here is in an all-women’s unit,” Keenan says to the rest of the elevator’s occupants. Then, turning back to Gibson, who works in the GBI’s criminal-history record repository: “The only man there, right?”
“I’ve got a lot of sympathy for him. I don’t know how he keeps his sanity.”
“He told me if he ever sees me on the roof jumping off,” says Gibson, “he’ll know why.”
“I tell him, ‘Go to the highest part of the building and jump off. Do it right.’”
There’s laughter all around, but Gibson’s sounds nervous.
Ding. Keenan steps out of the elevator and passes the front desk. A few employees in the lobby stare curiously—maybe with a little concern—as the director of the GBI escorts a visitor to the parking lot.
So. Caleb Hannan: Strange stories can find you at strange times. Like when you’re battling insomnia and looking for tips on your short game.
It was well past midnight sometime last spring and I was still awake despite my best efforts. I hadn’t asked for those few extra hours of bleary consciousness, but I did try to do something useful with them.
I play golf. Sometimes poorly, sometimes less so. Like all golfers, I spend far too much time thinking of ways to play less poorly more often. That was the silver lining to my sleeplessness — it gave me more time to scour YouTube for tips on how to play better. And it was then, during one of those restless nights, that I first encountered Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, known to friends as Dr. V.
Easily worth your $3.99.
Barry Yeoman: He stood at the kitchen window waiting. He had memorized everything around him: the pine walls, bare of wallpaper or even paint; the wardrobe where his widowed mother kept her churn for making buttermilk; the stove fueled by the firewood he cut each morning; the two coolers, one for dairy and the other for cakes and pies. He had branded them into his memory, these artifacts of a life that, after today, would no longer be his.
His mother was working in town. As she cleaned the house of the doctor and his wife, Josie Mae Martin didn’t know that her blue-eyed son was planning his escape from McComb, Mississippi. He had even assured her otherwise. But he had it all worked out: When he heard the chug of the southbound freight train, heard its piercing whistle, he would dash out the side door, run around the L of the house, and grab from its hiding place the 50-pound flour sack he had stuffed with a pair of shoes, two shirts, and a pair of pants. He would bolt to the west side of the Illinois Central tracks, squat behind a bush, and wait until he saw an open car.
He thought he knew how to do this. He had heard his father tell stories about “hoboing” the trains on his way to jobs picking cotton in the Mississippi Delta to the north, or cutting sugar cane in Vacherie, Louisiana, to the south. Before his death, Jessie James Martin and his friends would sit around drinking and talking about the fine art of eluding detection in a boxcar, traveling around the roughest parts of the South without suffering a detour to the local jail. The boy always listened closely, culling their stories for tips. “My daddy did it,” he thought to himself. “I can do it, too.”