Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Henning, Tennessee, In The Grip Of Evil, Feeling Fear

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. - Thomas Jefferson

There really is such a thing as evil, and when it comes to call, though it leaves its card of false fear, it's as real as the snow and as vital as the winds of March, or the lightning and thunder of summer.

I know it for what it is and for the feeling it always arouses in me, that of wanting to run, run, run – to run for home, for safety, for those who love me - and the sudden coating of tears it brings to my eyes, that brassy, dull taste in my mouth, and the panicked butterflies that suddenly want to fly out of my stomach and be free.

A month ago, on the morning of October 18 between 8:30 a.m. and 9, evil stalked the town of Henning, Tennessee, a place near the big river, the father of waters, named the Mississippi, and broadcast its stink on the early autumn winds, left its calling cards of random and unnameable fear strewn all though the bottoms of that great river.

It took the lives of two women who worked at the post office, selling stamps and collecting postage for packages, then fled in a car either maroon or burgundy in color – witnesses aren't really sure. No one seems to be certain.

Authorities won't say exactly what they found, other than that a cowardly attacker or perhaps two attackers, left two decent and fairly young women dead, shot down and left dead like a pair of worthless playthings cast aside in the playground of an insane child.

They do know that two entered the post office and two left, got into the car and blithely drove away without attracting much attention.

Authorities are so sure that someone knows more – in fact, knows exactly what happened – that they have doubled a federal reward for information leading to an arrest from $25,000 to $50,000.

The authorities are postal inspectors - the post office cops - the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and, of course, the Kingfish of all the suits, the FBI, as well as the detectives of the Tennessee state cops, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, county sheriff's officers and city police who keep law and order in this small community located about 45 miles northeast of Memphis on Highway 51.

Today, local news media reports, people are locking their doors, carefully studying the features of any stranger who comes through town, laying away from their traditional gathering spots in front of the coin laundry or at the local convenience store across the street from the post office, which stands closed, its perimeter beribboned by yellow tape and its postal boxes taped shut. A temporary post office on wheels stands next door, doing business with a customer base so small that the local office does not provide home delivery for clients who live in town. They have to pick up their mail in person.

Less than 1,000 people live in Henning.

The only really notable thing in town is a museum devoted to the accomplishments and fame of its most famous citizen, Alex Haley, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction fiction novel, Roots, which tells the story of his family's immigration from Africa as slaves – of Kunta Kinte and Chicken George, and dozens of unforgettable characters as real as the Reverend Malcolm X, Mr. Malcolm Little, whose autobiography he penned, the victim of a shotgun blast in a Harlem ballroom after a bitter dispute with officials of his church, the Black Muslim Church.

Mr. Haley died in 1992.

What is known is that the perpetrators might happen to be among the local population, or they may have hit the highway, the Great River Road, or any of dozens of routes that criss-cross the continent, and simply drove away to greener pastures, new territory to exploit at will.

And, yes, authorities are positive that someone saw exactly what happened and is keeping silent for any of an infinite number of perfectly good reasons.

Fear, the calling card of truly fundamental evil, is as real as fire and ice and concrete and steel, warm baby puppies and the mighty oaks and cypresses that line the water courses of the heartland, the creeks and bayous and rivers and sloughs.

It is a force with which one must reckon. Fail to come to grips with its consuming powers, and it is for sure you will perish, dying the thousand deaths of the coward, the one who is afraid to live for fear of dying.

And then there are the rumors.

The killings were part of a gang initiation.

There was a certain package at that post office at that time, and its very presence and the need to retrieve it was potent enough to cause the violent demise of two innocent postal workers.

A surveillance camera that hangs on the wall is not real; it's a dummy that has no inner working parts, records no pictures.

The man who installed it came across the street for a cup of coffee and told all the idlers standing around on one foot, then the other, that is true on the day he hung it on the wall.

It's true. It's all true. A friend of a friend said so.

More than 60 federal investigators are sifting the evidence, bagging and tagging and numbering the clues, snapping the photos, logging the calls, cataloging the statements, working the case. They want these evil doers and they want them bad, lock, stock and barrel, buttoned down and indicted, convicted by unassailable evidence.

People are looking at each other sideways, watching from the corners of their eyes.

Police followed a man and his wife all the way to Jackson where they visited a sick relative and did some Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart.

They subjected the man to a polygraph examination, but still they were not satisfied. They kept he and his wife under surveillance.

The couple finally had their attorney send a certified letter to the authorities, requesting that they stop their surveillance. He called it a form of harrassment.

A woman who works across the street visited the post office about 15 minutes before she had returned to her job and heard sirens and saw police swarming the building.

She said the scene was eerily silent, uncharacteristically silent, that something was wrong, though she did not know exactly what. It was just too quiet in there. She left - and didn't look back. Now, she's very grateful she followed her inclination and got out of there quickly.

She now tells her friends, and has given a statement to police, saying that she believes that at that time, death was waiting for her, silently waiting for her to do anything or make any move that would make her a witness and would cause a need for her to be eliminated violently then, there, at the point of a gun – for no other reason.

That is what terror looks like; that's the way it sounds. Those are the basic elements of its ugly face, its stinking breath, its fundamentally evil ways.

The truth is this, and nothing much else is known for sure. Two women with kids are dead, buried, but not forgotten. Their names are Paula Robinson, a 33-year-old retail clerk, and Jucy Spray, a rural letter carrier aged 59 years.

Their relatives beg for someone to come forward and speak for them, to tell their story, to help see to it that the persons who stole their lives so violently are apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law.

It is a reasonable request. One can only hope, for their sake, against hope, and wish for the best outcome.

Listen to this sick fool rant and rave about the basic nature of what has happened. Listen to his twisted words and ridiculous logic and know that you are in the presence of evil – fundamental evil, and run for home and safety and never lose sight of it, for it is your life and it's nothing to play around with.

I have spoken.

I am sincere.

So mote it be.

- The Legendary Jim Parks

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