Tom and Frontier Justice

You be the judge about what the boys did when nobody was looking.

There were seven and a half guys in the group.

One of them had been diagnosed with a hole in his heart. He used it as an excuse never to climb the fence and retrieve the basketball. He counted as only half a guy.

They lived in a neighborhood that straddled several school districts. The boys were too far from their schools to hang out with classmates so they formed a group strictly out on convenience.

As a matter of survival, they worked tirelessly on the your-dick is-so-small style of humor they’d need in high school. They had heard that Cruncher and The Holocaust were coming their way and they were nervous.

It was in the spring when the thin, blond kid named Tom got strange. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, Tom couldn’t control his mouth.

He’d took to ridiculing one guy’s acne. He made slutty-divorced-mother-with-peroxide-hair jibes that drew blood. His cruelty could have been forgiven if he hadn’t developed a trait even worse.

Tom had become annoying.

He laughed too hard at his own jokes and he spit dumb-fuck insults out of the side of his mouth. You wouldn’t have liked it.

The guys gave Tom more than his share of second chances. None of them expected it and they hadn’t planned it, but one afternoon they took matters into their own hands.

They proceeded to indict Tom. They invoked a jury and held a trial. After finding him guilty they imposed the maximum sentence — they banished him from the face of the earth.

A movie about a lynching “The Oxbow Incident” often appeared on TV. Civics teachers across the country assigned it for discussion in class. The boys began to doubt whether their frontier justice had been just, if they should have entertained appeals.

A decade later one of the group ran into Tom at a singles’ bar — both were back in town for Thanksgiving. They shared several rounds of drinks without bringing up the past.

Tom had tried various lines of work in California and as much as he loved the ocean he was thinking about moving home to finish night school.

He was as thin and blond as always and, now in his twenties, he was as pleasant and sincere a man as you could ever hope to meet.


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