John T.'s Justice

Joe House’s honorable mention story about a bizarre revenge.

The air was cool and crisp this fine fall morning just north of Roanoke, Va., as John T. brought the big Cat engine to life. The only thing on his mind this morning was the fact that by tomorrow he would be home in Atlanta and then a week of fishing and camping with his wife and the grandchildren. This is what he lived and worked for, and as he pulled onto I-81 headed south, he was smiling with anticipation.

A few miles down the road, however, his smile diminished somewhat as he saw the “open” sign for the Virginia Weigh Station, and he began to gear down in order to cross the scales at the posted speed limit.

When John T. pulled onto the scales, the red stop light came on, and he sat on the scales for what seemed like forever before a voice came over the speaker and asked, “Driver, do you know that you are 430 pounds over gross?”

“No, sir, I just loaded this equipment last night at Lexington, Va., and if my bill of lading is correct, I should be at least a thousand pounds under gross.”

“That’s of no concern to me. Pull around to the parking area and bring your bills, registration and license over to the office.”

As everyone knows, in the Commonwealth of Virginia the office with the DOT officers is located on one side of the interstate with only a small building on the other side with a two-way speaker and a tunnel under the interstate connecting the two.

John T. entered the small building on his side of the interstate and pressed the intercom button. “Officer, I have a problem with tunnels and if it’s all right with you, I’ll just bring the papers across the interstate to your office since there’s not much traffic anyway.”

In a voice that was clearly irritated, the officer replied, “Driver, surely you have seen the signs that are posted on all interstates stating that all pedestrians are prohibited. Now if you will just bring your paperwork through the tunnel to this office, we can get this matter cleared up, and you can be on your way.”

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John T. spoke into the intercom once more. “Officer, I want to cooperate, but for legitimate reasons, I am unable to enter any confined area. Would it be OK if I drove down to the next exit, turned around and came back to the office on your side?”

“In the first place, driver, if I let you go to the next exit, you would probably just jump off the interstate, cut through the woods, and we’ll be forced to send someone to try and chase you down. In the second place, there is no legitimate reason why you can’t obey the direct orders from an officer of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“Officer, I don’t know what else to tell you other than I’ll do anything that you ask me to except go into that tunnel.”

“I’m going to make this real simple for you, Mr. Driver,” the officer said. “I’m going to give you 10 minutes to bring yourself and your papers through the tunnel to this office, or I’m going to drive over there, pick you up and carry you down to the local jail and let you cool your heels there until you can obey the direct orders of an officer.”

John T. climbed back into the cab of his truck and was pondering his situation when the DOT car pulled up to his truck, and the officer got out and walked up to his door.

“Driver, I’m Sgt. Joshua Zacharia with the Virginia Department of Transportation. I want you to step out of your truck and let me see your CDL and registration.”

As John T. pulled his CDL and registration from his wallet, another article fell from his wallet onto the pavement. The DOT reached down and picked it up.

He examined it closely, looked at John T. and said, “I see that you are ex-military. It says here 101st Airborne. This does not impress me in the least. All you military people think you are immune to the civilian laws. I will prove you wrong.

“Now, Mr. John T. Carpenter, we are about to take a little ride down to the local jail, where you can cool your heels until you can decide to obey my orders.”

“Please, officer,” John T. said. “As I told you, I have a serious problem with confinement, whether it’s in a tunnel or a jail cell. Why can’t I just pay my fine and be on my way?”
“I’ll tell you what you can do, and that is to get into the car the easy way, or we can do it the hard way, and I’ll put the cuffs on.”

“That won’t be necessary,” John T. said as he slid into the back seat of the car.

Sgt. Zacharia led John T. down the corridor toward the jail cells, and as he passed the desk of the officer in charge, he threw the paperwork on John T. down and carried his prisoner to a cell and locked him up.

He walked back to the desk of the officer in charge and told him, “I’ve got to run some errands around town. I should be back in two or three hours. Something tells me that should be sufficient time for Mr. Carpenter to have a change of heart, and I’ll bet that he’ll be more cooperative by then.”

The officer in charge looked at the DOT officer and asked, “Zacharia, have you looked at this man’s paperwork and checked his background? Hell, he’s a Green Beret from the Vietnam War and has more medals than George Patton.”

“When he crossed my scales, he was over gross,” Zacharia said. “That’s the only thing that impresses me.”

With that he got into his car and left.

Three hours later Zacharia returned to the jail to find an ambulance backed up to the front door and a commotion going on inside.

As he rushed into the building, he was grabbed by the arm and rudely jerked into a vacant room. The officer in charge got right in Zacharia’s face. “Thirty minutes after you left, one of my men was making his routine rounds when he found your man having convulsions. He got the paramedics in here ASAP, but it was too late. Your guy had already checked out. Something did not feel right about this from the start, Zacharia, and don’t expect me to help you on this one. I have a nasty feeling there is going to be hell to pay, and I don’t want to be any part of it.”

The next morning in the dark early hours of the day, Zacharia pulled up to the weigh station and was preparing to unlock and get the facility ready for the rest of the officers who would be arriving in the next hour or so.

As he was about to unlock the door, a figure stepped out of the shadows. “Good morning, Mr. Zacharia.”

The DOT officer was both startled and frightened, and he instinctively reached for the 9 millimeter on his hip. Just as his hand touched the butt of the gun, a hand clamped down over his wrist like a vise. At the same instant, he felt the cold touch of steel against the back of his head and heard the unmistakable click of a hammer being pulled back into the ready position.

At about the same time, a van pulled up to them and six men stepped out and stood at attention, three on one side of the door and three on the other.

The man that stepped from the shadows said, “Let me introduce myself. I am Lt. Col. Marshall Abernathy, U.S. Army retired. I will not introduce you to any of these other fine men, since it would be totally irrelevant to the little sortie for which you are about to accompany us on.

“Also, as you might have noticed, you will no longer be addressed as ‘Officer’ Zacharia but simply as ‘mister’ since the Group has deemed you unworthy to be an officer.

“Now, Joshua Zacharia, if you will step into the van, we will be on our way.”

The DOT officer looked around at the men who were watching him closely and made one of the most important decisions of his life – to simply step into the van and keep his mouth shut. Something deep within his gut told him that to resist or make an attempt to escape would be exactly what these men would want him to do. He would have been right on the money.

After about a 40-mile trip into a remote part of the countryside, they came to an old abandoned airstrip that looked to be of World War II vintage. As the men disembarked the vehicle, they could see a twin-engine plane warming up at the end of one of the strips.

“What is that?” Zacharia screamed.

“It is simply part of the equipment necessary to complete our mission, Mr. Zacharia,” Abernathy said. “We hope you will enjoy your flight this morning.”

“I can’t go up in that plane,” Zacharia said. “I’m deathly afraid of heights. I’ve never flown in an airplane, and I don’t plan on starting today.”

Even as he said the last word, he sincerely wished he could take it back. But that was not the case.

Abernathy walked up within inches of Zacharia and looked deep into his eyes. “We are well aware of your problems with height. We do our research well. Let me tell you this. In 1967 myself, along with 127 of my men, were caught in an ambush in the God-forsaken jungle in Vietnam. Twenty-seven of those men lived. From those survivors, we formed the Group, and we swore to look after each other and our families until our death. Yesterday our comrade, John T. Carpenter, died, and you are partly responsible. Your punishment is simply our duty. We frankly don’t care what you wish, think or were planning on. Our duty to a heroic soldier is more important.

“Now this is the game plan. We are going to make three flights. These flights will be taken so that you can make three parachute jumps.”

“Parachute jumps!” screamed Zacharia. “Hell, I can’t do that! I’d die if I had to jump out of an airplane!”

“That’s a distinct possibility,” Abernathy said. “But we’ll never know until we try, so let’s get this show on the road.”

Abernathy led the way as the other men pushed, dragged and half-carried Zacharia onto the waiting plane. Abernathy put both his and Zacharia’s seat belts on as the plane began to shake and vibrate when it started its takeoff roll.

When the plane reached 18,000 feet, Abernathy stood and hooked a safety harness to himself and turned to Zacharia.

“The time for your first jump has arrived, so if you will please stand, one of our members will help you into your chute.”

As Zacharia slowly stood, one of the Group moved forward and strapped the parachute harness onto him. When this was done, two other members appeared at his side and guided him to the open door.

Abernathy approached Zacharia. “You should look at this as one small step for yourself and one giant leap for justice.” With that, Abernathy gave Zacharia a push toward the atmosphere.

When the two members stepped out into the empty space with their captor between them, a large, wet stain appeared on the front of Zacharia’s pants.

As the freefall lasted only a few thousand feet, the two members of the Group thought that the screaming would cease once the chute opened, but they were proved wrong as Zacharias’ scream lasted until his feet touched Mother Earth.

Then the screaming turned into a whimper, and Zacharia pleaded, “Please, no more. I don’t deserve this.”

His captors did not agree.

As the plane approached altitude once more, one of the members fastened the parachute onto Zacharia’s shoulders, and then he strangely fitted a separate harness around Zacharia’s feet and ankles.

Abernathy approached Zacharia and shouted into his ear. “It will be interesting to see how you handle your landing on this jump, since you will be hanging by your feet.”

Zacharia’s head jerked around toward Abernathy, and his eyes grew to the size of saucers as the realization struck him of what he had said.

It all made no difference because at the moment he understood what Abernathy was saying, he was also being pushed through the door into the vast nothingness below. Once more the stain on the front of the pants, once more the endless scream.

As Zacharia made his descent toward earth, suspended beneath his parachute by his feet, his screams intensified as the earth rushed up to meet his face.

At the last moment, one of the members pushed a button on a remote control unit in his pocket, and Zacharia’s feet dropped beneath him just in time for him to make contact with the earth. Althought he landed feet first, the landing had all the grace of a wet dishrag.
As they boarded the plane once more, Abernathy said to Zacharia, “It is time for your final jump, and if all goes well, we will see that you are returned to your home.

“This time you must choose one of these three parachutes – the red one, the blue one or the white one. I will tell you that only one of these packs contains a parachute. While these things are sufficient to jump with, they tend to make for one hell of a nasty landing.”

Zacharia could only muster gibberish. “I’ll

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