“The prisoner will now rise for sentencing,” the bailiff of the Upshaw County Superior Court intoned with a solemn expression, stopping in mid-chaw to hold a wad of tobacco in the side of his mouth.
Nineteen-year-old Everett Dumphee stood and smoothed back a lick of his blond hair. He was big and strong-boned. He quietly made sure his flannel shirt was tucked into his new pair of Wrangler jeans, and stared at the judge with a heart brimful of dread.
Beside Dumphee, his girl, Jo Beth, sat quietly and held his hand. Everett’s ma and pappy, and uncles and cousins were all packed into the courthouse. The benches could not have held more of them. Even the old preacher who lived in the cave up by Blue Grouse Creek had come down for the court appearance.
Judge Wright was middle aged, slightly chubby, and he was staring hard at Everett with a mean look in his eye, like a hound that’s holed himself a ’coon. Judge Wright glared a minute, then said, “Everett Dumphee, you’ve been found guilty of runnin’ moonshine. Before I sentence you, do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Dumphee cleared his throat, found it hard to talk. “Uh, I didn’t do it, Your Honor, sir.”
Judge Wright made a little snarling face, as if Dumphee had poked him in the belly with a sharp stick. “I don’t want to hearthat! I know it was your uncle’s car, and you said you was late for a date. But you was caught red-handed, drivin’ down old Bald Knob at ninety miles an hour with ten gallons of shine in your trunk — and when the police flashed their lights, you revved it up to a hundred and forty!”
Dumphee’s pappy shouted, “Aw, he’s just born with good reflexes, Your Honor! You can’t blame the boy for that.”
“You shut your yap in my courthouse,” Judge Wright said, pointing the gavel at Dumphee’s pappy. “If your boy has such good driving instincts, put him on the racing circuit — not runnin’ shine!” The judge cleared his throat, tried to regain his composure.
“Now, Everett Dumphee, I’m a fair man — or at least I try to be . . .” the judge said sweetly. “But I’m tired as get-out of you Dumphees running shine. My grandpappy sent your grandpappy to prison for it. My pappy sent your pappy to prison for it. And I’d send you to prison right now, but for one thing: you Dumphees can’t help it that you’re all so inbred that you ain’t bright enough to figure out right from wrong.”
Dumphee’s mother gasped, and Dumphee spoke up, trying to defend the family honor, “Uh, sir, I ain’t—”
“You’ve had plenty of chance to say your piece!” the judge brushed him off. “Now I’m going to say my piece. Dumphee, boy, your problem is that you’re uncivilized. You give West Virginia a bad name. You live up in them hollows with your dogs and your guns and your moonshine, marrying your cousins and playing your fiddles. Jethro Clampett has got nothing on you—”
“Uh, Bodine,” Dumphee said.
“What?” Judge Wright asked.
“Jethro Bodine is his name. Jed Clampett is his uncle. I watched that show on TV, and Bodine is his name. We get 140 channels on our satellite dish, now.”
“Are you trying to be a wiseacre with me?” the judge asked.
“Uh, no, sir,” Dumphee said, affecting a thick accent. Judge Wright always talked with a thick accent, as if he thought that he sounded like some southern gentleman. But the truth was, with modern television pumping educated standard American English into every home in the hills, practically no one in West Virginia spoke like the judge did anymore. Dumphee thought the judge sounded like a hick. Still, it sometimes helped to sound like one of the good ol’ boys.
The judge said, “Because I’ve got a hundred acres of good farmland at home, I don’t need no wiseacre, and if you are being a wiseacre with me . . .”
“No, suh!” Dumphee said louder, in an even thicker accent.
“My point is, this is 1991. Everyone else up in those hills is trying to raise marijuana and driving Porsches. But you folks — you’re living in the past.” The judge shook his head so woefully, Dumphee almost wished that he were a marijuana farmer, just so he’d get some respect. At Dumphee’s side, his pappy was stiffening, getting red in the face, blood pressure rising so high, Dumphee feared he might burst a vessel.
The judge sighed. “You got to go out and see the world, son. So, I’m going to do you a favor. I’m going to civilize you.”
The judge took a long, deep breath, stared Dumphee in the face. “I hereby sentence you to the maximum penalty for your crime: ten years of watching television in the West Virginia State Prison.”
The words hit Dumphee like a fist in the belly. It was so unfair. He really hadn’t been running shine. He hadn’t known that his uncle had that keg in the back! It wasn’t fair that he’d go to prison. Didn’t the judge know what men did to each other in there?
At his side, Jo Beth squeezed Dumphee’s hand and whined. “I’ll wait for you,” she promised, while his ma broke down sobbing. His pappy’s face was so red that Dumphee figured the old man would go out to the truck, get his rifle, and find a shady tree to lay under while he waited for the judge to poke his head out of the courthouse.
But now the judge was shaking his head sadly.
“That’s right, son. I said ‘prison.’ But if that don’t sit well with you, then I’ll set aside that penalty on one condition: you enlist in the United States Army for a period of no less than five years — I do suppose you can shoot?”
“He can knock the eye out of a red-tailed hawk at three hundred yards, Your Honor!” Dumphee’s cousin shouted.
“Yeah, I ought to fine him $500 right now for shooting raptors,” the judge grumbled. “Well, I figured as much. And you look strong enough to wrestle a bear. What do you say? You can avoid prison, and this will give you a chance to get out of them hills, see the world.
“Some folks say you can take a boy out of the mountains, but you can’t take the mountains out of the boy. I don’t know if I believe ’em. You’ll either come back a new and better man, or else you’ll be the Rambo of moonshiners.”
Dumphee stood, seething. It wasn’t fair. He had plans for his life. Plans for him and Jo Beth!
He wasn’t a hillbilly. It was true that his family engaged in moonshining, but this wasn’t unsophisticated hooch stewed up in a bathtub. His pa had a computer, and got orders over the Internet. Some English fellow would send e-mail, telling what he wanted, then send bottles to fill with names like “Boar’s Breath” and “Hair of the Hound o’ Morgan” — sophisticated whiskeys out of Scotland and Ireland.
Sure, the Dumphees were selling forgeries — and had been making a lot of money at it for the past twenty years — but in the past few months the whole family business had begun to go somewhat legitimate. The new “Dumphee Clan” whiskeys were selling better in France than the forged labels ever had.
What did this hoary old judge know about civilization? He probably thought that the Internet was some fancy new device used to catch a trout!
And as for his Porsches, well, the old souped-up T-bird that the government had confiscated could outrun one of them overpriced, unreliable Porsches any day!
The judge stared at Dumphee expectantly. He offered, “What do you say, son? The Army, or prison?
“The Army would be easy for a fellow like you, what with the Soviet Union falling apart. I wish we had a war I could send you into, but I figure, given five years of enlistment, something ought to come along. . . .”
And if you’re lucky, I’ll get shot, Dumphee thought. He sighed.
“Guess I’ll have to take the Army, Your Honor,” Dumphee said, feeling queasy.
Jo Beth squeezed his hand. He figured he could always send for her after he got out of basic training. They could get themselves on the waiting list for some little dumpy army apartment.
Hell, Dumphee thought with resignation, at least he isn’t making me enlist in the Navy.
“Bailiff, remand this boy to the custody of the U.S. Army,” the judge said.
Everyone stood up a bit dumbfounded. Everett’s uncle came and slapped Dumphee’s shoulder, apologized for getting him in trouble.
Jo Beth fell apart and started weeping. “Oh, Everett,” she said, trembling as she leaned against his shoulder. “This is so terrible. So terrible.”
“It won’t be that bad,” Dumphee said.
She sniffed. “You’re always so positive. ‘If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.’ That’s the way I’ve got to think. I just — I just always knew you would make it out of these mountains someday, but I never thought it would be like this. I thought you’d go to college.”
“Well, I still can go to college,” Dumphee said. “Just looks like I’ll be doing it on the GI Bill.” He’d always been good in school. Not brilliant, but he imagined himself to be a cut above average. Given that, and the fact that Dumphee was a fighter, he’d always figured he’d do okay in college.
Dumphee’s wrists were cuffed, so he couldn’t hug Jo Beth, but she just squeezed his hands and leaned into him. He could smell the sweet perfume on her neck, feel her pleasant curves through the fabric of her cotton dress. “I’ll join you, after you get out of basic training. I’d wait for you, even if it took till the end of time. Nothing can keep us apart.”
The bailiff took Dumphee right then and led him down to the recruiter’s office in handcuffs. He got to stop once, outside the courthouse, to say goodbye to the redbone hunting hounds in the back of his pappy’s pickup.
Then he was gone.