The Weird and the Strange XXII: Damn it! Johnson

A nation-wide chain considered William Howard Bentley one of the two best box corrugators, before his unfortunate demise. Production numbers alone don’t tell the tale of William Howard Bentley, however, for they don’t account for all of the intangibles he brought to the company. William, they said, proved to be a great mentor to those working the various roles on his machine, he proved adept at settling disputes among his fellow employees, and he was such a great team player that his immediate supervisor, Mick Oliveri, did not have to leave his office for years. Bentley made Mick Oliveri’s job so easy that when Oliveri received a promotion, he assured those involved that much of the credit should go to William Bentley. Oliveri also stated that his open position should go to Bentley.

William Bentley had a spotless record of absenteeism, with no violations of any sort in the last decade, and his loyalty to the company was almost unprecedented in their location. The interview for the promotion, his manager Mr. Mick Oliveri conceded, was all but a formality.

Witnesses report that the promotion changed William Bentley. He had always had a pleasant disposition, they said, but that promotion put an extra bounce in his step and another song in his soul. They also added that he didn’t let the promotion go to his head. William Bentley was as a levelheaded man of consistency that didn’t let promotions or the stress of the job get to him.

“Even when he wrote me up for a poor quarter,” Dale Luke, said. “He wasn’t condescending. ‘I know, firsthand, how difficult this job can be,’ is what he told me. Every boss tells us they have our backs, but William Bentley actually followed through on it. I could give you three different instances where he took my side over the company’s. You had to be right. Mr. Bentley didn’t just stick up for you for no reason, but when you were right, the man had your back. It wasn’t just the one-on-one talk you hear from everyone else. He meant it. 

“It was like Mr. Bentley had something else going on in life,” another employee, named Bobby Abboud, mentioned. “Even when he was one of us, before his promotion, he walked around with an air of confidence about him. It wasn’t arrogance. It was confidence. I thought William must have had a million dollars or something, because he acted as if he didn’t need the job, or the money. I know he did, I talked to him a lot on smoke breaks, but he had this air about him that led you to believe he was just doing this work for something to do.”

William carried this levelheaded, stress-free mindset into his second, one-month review as supervisor. His manager Mick Oliveri quoted William Bentley stating, in that review that he wasn’t worried about the poor performance of all of the new employees on his machine. He stated that he had confidence in his men, and he believed in them.

“You probably should be worried, is what I told him,” Mick Oliveri informed me.

“‘Why?’ William asked. ‘You said I’ve done everything a man could possibly do with the staff you’ve given me.’ The latter statement, Mick Oliveri stated, was in regards to the workforce that the federal government mandated the company hire.

“We do have an out coming,” Mick Oliveri stated that he said to William. “We’ll need more documentation on it, as thoroughly as possible, but we can get out of this. We will need you to write these kids up on every failing, where warranted of course, so that when their ninety-day probationary period ends, we can fire those who need to be fired, and we can get a different, more competent staff in here.”

After that meeting, William Bentley held his own, emergency, mandatory meeting with all of the employees on his team. He called it the “Your ass is grass” meeting.

“Your ass is grass,” William said to open the meeting. “I’m not going to lie to you, the shit is rolling downhill. Our numbers on this machine were so bad last month that my manager’s ass is on the line, which means my ass is on the line, which means every person sitting in this room has their ass on the line. The numbers were so bad that you’re all on official suspension, as of today, and you have thirty days to make things right.”

Most of those employees were able to turn things around, some of them didn’t. The box corrugator didn’t make it, and this introduced William Bentley and Mick Oliveri to one of the cruel realities of life in corporate America: Firing a whole mess of incompetent employees, does not necessarily mean that competent ones will follow. 

Among the new hires that the team of Human Resources found and interviewed at a hotel Job Fair, through numerous online ads, and a Facebook call for new employees, was a man named Robert R. Johnson. When a company as large as theirs hires such a large group of employees all at once, the veteran members of the staff have a difficult time keeping track of their names, and they develop nicknames to compensate for that. Among the number of new nicknames given to these new employees, one of the more colorful ones was “Ladies’ man Swenson”. Within a month of his hiring, Randy Swenson convinced one of the women that most of the employees had been pining for throughout their tenure at the company. Another new employee went by the name “Chipped Beef Becker”, because the man brought a bagged lunch of chipped beef sandwiches on most days. Robert R. Johnson slipped under the radar in the beginning. A couple weeks into the job, however, the veteran employees began to hear the same thing in their headphones whenever the corrugator team needed to order their machine stopped: “Damn it! Johnson”. William Bentley would scream this at Johnson to get him to stop the machine before a simple mistake could spiral out of control and turn into a catastrophe. The exclamation point was such a point of emphasis for William Bentley that the crew claimed the exclamation point was a well-establish part of Damn it! Johnson’s middle name.

Due to the turnover at most fast food restaurants, it’s impossible to compile a complete record of Robert R. Johnson’s employment history, but he was able to secure a technical assistant position at a prestigious online company before working for the box factory. Robert R. Johnson informed his fellow employees, shortly after his first day at the box factory that he felt like his whole life had led him to that moment. He, like most young people his age, was obsessed with computers. It was both his greatest attribute, and eventually his greatest albatross, for he had little to no patience with customers who didn’t know the most fundamental operations of the internet. His employers considered him a dynamo at the position. Although it’s often difficult for former employers to reveal information, good or bad, on former employees, the Human Resources representative that I spoke with informed me that Robert’s numbers were such that he received a raise in seven of the eight quarters he spent with them. The company thought that their relationship with Robert Johnson was mutual, and it was for most of Robert’s tenure, but he began to grow restless. In his exit interview, Robert R. Johnson informed his former employer that he didn’t care for the notion of spending the rest of his life behind a computer.

“He came from a long line of men who worked with their hands,” a friend of Robert’s, named Mark Norton, reported Robert saying. “He said that he had spent his life doing everything he could to avoid manual labor, then once he achieved it, he felt like he was missing something in life. He longed for the rigors of physical craftsmanship. He had this idea that he needed to work with his hands, as his dad and his grandpa had. He said he was more than willing to take a decent cut in pay to do so. His wife, was less than enthusiastic about it, but she knew how unhappy he was, and she came around to his way of thinking.”

The fact that Robert should’ve continued to avoid manual labor was evident in his first month at the plant. Robert, however, wasn’t one to give up easily. He told anyone who would ask that working with his hands was in his blood, and that his heritage was such that he would eventually overcome whatever initial obstacles he faced.

“He was stressed out in the first month,” Mark Norton added, “but as long as I’ve known Robert, he’s always been the type to get it. It might take him a little longer than most, but he always gets it. As a person suffering from dyslexia, school wasn’t easy for him. As a little guy, sports wasn’t easy for him, but he was a slow learner, with a comeback mentality. I didn’t think the box factory job would be any different for him. We both thought it would just be a matter of time before he got it.”

In one-on-ones with William Bentley, Robert said all the right things to instill confidence in Bentley and subsequently Oliveri. They believed that they had made the right choice in hiring Robert Johnson. He asked for confidence and patience, and he informed them that he would reward for that when he found a way to turn that corner.

As previously stated, William Bentley was a confident and patient supervisor, and he instilled in Robert R. Johnson all the beliefs he had in himself. Some, including Mick Oliveri, stated that it was inspiring to watch Bentley take Robert under his wing, and that Bentley saw a lot of himself in Robert, and that he regarded Robert as an apprentice of sorts.

“‘Tomorrow is another day’,” Jimmy Rogers said he overheard William Bentley telling Robert Johnson, “‘and all that shit!’ Mr. Bentley said it just like that,” Jimmy added. “He said, ‘Tomorrow’s another day,’ like that line in the Annie song, and he ended it with ‘and all that shit!’ It was hysterical. Damn it! laughed. We all did. William even smiled a little after he said it, but he gave Damn it! a look that said he meant it. That was in the beginning, though, before all the shit began rolling down on Bentley.”

“Bentley started to get all stressed out,” Jimmy continued. “Like none of us had ever seen him before. He said Damn it! Johnson, somewhat, in the beginning. I mean, Damn it! wasn’t getting it, and Bentley was starting to get frustrated, but he stopped using the nickname when he learned that we started turning into an ongoing joke. It just got to be so much for the otherwise unflappable man, too much, I think, for one man to handle. For William I mean. Damn it! Johnson became the name everyone in the plant called … It’s Robert right? Yeah, Robert Johnson.”

“Bentley lost the bounce in his step, in those weeks,” Jimmy added, as a third-party witness to the events that led to William Bentley’s demise, “and no one thought he had a song in his soul anymore. He began standing by Robert R. Johnson, micromanaging Robert’s every move in a way that made William Bentley sick. He never wanted to be that type of manager, but he had to be.”

“Hey, the job of box corrugator is not for the weak,” an Adam Williams said, in defense of William Bentley’s micromanaging. “The training for the job is far too short and intense. We all said that long before Damn it! was hired. Then, the trainee steps on the floor, and they experience a level of pressure, from all the corners. It takes a special kind of person to handle that, we’ve all said that, and it might be that only one in ten can. Maybe. Then you add to that the level of pressure that comes from above and below on the supervisor.

“What kind of pressure does he face?” Adam asked in response to me prodding him for more details. “The supervisor? I’d say that maybe one in one hundred can handle that. Look, you got management coming down on your ass every day, as a “supe”, and then you’re having to deal with those employees who aren’t getting performance-based bonuses, based on the fact that one employee –that you haven’t fired yet– isn’t cutting it. The employees badger their supe. I’ve seen it. They say, ‘I’m doing great, why can’t I get my bonus?

“It was all headed to a big blowout,” Adam continued. “You had to be there, and you had to know Damn it! to know that his relationship with the company was not going to end quietly.”

After everything that happened, Adam said he wouldn’t comment on the characteristics of Robert Johnson, but I got the distinct feeling that Adam thought that Robert R. Johnson was not equipped to deal with the pressure, and the character defining failure he experienced during his tenure at the plant.

As the month ended, and Robert R. Johnson was showing few signs of improvement, the clash between he and William Bentley became personal for Robert.

“‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’” the primary witness –who asked to remain nameless in this report– reported Robert saying in the days preceding the final blowout. “‘But something’s going down. I can’t take that man riding my ass the way he is. ‘Why don’t you just quit then, is what I literally said at that moment,’” this primary witness stated that he responded. “He looked at me like I had something growing out of my head. I think, and this is just my opinion, but I think Robert came from a long line of people who don’t just quit. I mean, that was my dad too. You don’t just quit, is something he said to me all the time. We’ve all heard the phrase, if you don’t succeed at something try, try, and try again, but I heard someone else state that if you don’t succeed after a time, just quit. There’s no sense in making a fool out of yourself. I respect Robert Johnson’s never say die attitude, but he was reaching that point where I thought he should seriously think about quitting.”

“‘Damn it! Johnson!’ William said approaching the machine that Robert had just jammed, again,” the primary witness continued. “At this point in his tenure, Robert Johnson was so used to jamming the machine that he almost always had a thumb on the stop button.

“The pressure for William Bentley to do something came from on high, of course,” the primary witness said, “but it also came from those working on the machine. They document all shutdowns, of course, so it doesn’t affect other operators on the machine in a disciplinary manner for one man’s mistakes, but those same operators do lose production credits and bonuses if one of the operators isn’t pulling his weight. Therefore, Mr. Bentley was getting it from all sides.

“I was there, working right alongside Damn it! the whole time,” said the primary witness. “I don’t know what these other people are telling you, but he was close to getting it. It’s a tough job, and he was putting some good numbers together. He had good days and bad days. If all he had were bad days, I doubt Bentley would’ve kept him on. Robert did show promise, and we were all excited by it. If he could’ve strung enough of those days together, he could’ve shown a good month, which would’ve relieved Bentley of the stress and pressure from on high. Damn it! just wasn’t consistent enough for solid production numbers though. He just … the guy was a daydreamer. He’d have the machine working perfectly, and then he’d just go off into la-la land. Some of those moments were crucial, and I mean crucial. I mean, the actions warranted Mr. Bentley’s tirades, but this whole idea that Damn it! was a total screw up the whole time, is just people remembering the screw-ups and the idea that we weren’t getting bonuses. People were pissed, I was pissed, but to say it was all one man’s fault. I mean, I saw a lot of people who could’ve done a lot to help Damn it! They would sit in the lunchroom all pissed off, but they wouldn’t lend the man a hand. It’s a team operation, here at our company, and I didn’t see a whole lot of teamwork going on that whole month.

“Yeah, I saw the whole thing go down,” this primary witness added. “Damn it went to la-la land and caused a slight jam. It wasn’t even close to some of the more major jams he caused. He could’ve stopped it had he reacted quickly. He, we, could’ve fixed that minor jam, but he wasn’t there. Mr. Bentley was. He was sprinting down the production line, and Robert saw him coming. He snapped out of his daydream, and we all had Mr. Bentley’s “Damn it! Johnsons” ringing in our headset. The minor jam became a major jam, and Bentley was running down the aisle to prevent Damn it! from ruining the whole production line.

“Right here,” the primary witness continued, “I want it noted that the April second incident was an accident. I don’t know what other people are telling you, but I was there, and I know it was nothing more than a regrettable accident. You know how people get with eyewitness testimonies, at the scene of a crime, and all that. Some of the things, they say the saw, aren’t true. They remember things differently. I was there, and my memory is clear as a bell. Could Damn it! have prevented what happened, perhaps? I’m not saying he was entirely to blame. An accident is an accident, but I have to imagine that Damn it! has had some sleepless nights thinking about what he could’ve done right here to prevent what happened. Damn it! was frustrated, but his frustrations over the number of machine stops he had per quarter, and his inability to perform on a consistent basis, landed on Mr. Bentley’s desk. The buck stopped at Bentley’s desk, and he had to do something. 

“So, when Mr. Bentley came running down the aisle at top speed,” the primary witness said. “I have to imagine that Damn it! thought his job was on the line, and he pulled a “fudge it” moment, and instead of hitting the stop button, he let the line go, and the jam began building, and something had to give. In this case, as you know, a belt snapped and swung out, just as the sprinting screaming William Bentley tripped over nothing, and that belt took his head off. It was an awful moment of perfect timing. In all my years of working on this machine, I never saw a belt snap like that, not outwardly. The machine has all sorts of safeguards to prevent it, but things like that do happen of course. I’ll also go on record with you, and anyone else you throw at me, when I say that Bentley didn’t trip over anything. He was sprinting, and he was a middle-aged man who probably didn’t sprint very often. He just tripped over his own feet, he stubbed his toe, or something, but he didn’t trip over a cable or a floor mat. He just stumbled in a manner that caused him to go in a downward trajectory at the exact moment that belt whipped out, in an upward trajectory. It was an unfortunate moment of perfect timing. 

“I feel for Bentley’s family, his kid, all that, but I may feel worse for Robert Johnson. He has to live with this moment for the rest of his life, but it was an accident. Make sure you make note of my characterization in your report.”

***

Everything I’ve written thus far is true, or as true as the witness testimonies I’ve collected on the event believed it to be. Everything I’ve written thus far is what I submitted as a field investigator to the insurance company that employs me. This insurance company was, of course, the insurance company for the box factory. The insurance company report I wrote was more bullet point oriented, and I have edited it with more detail for this story. In the details of this story, I have also added the speculation and interpretation of the employees of the box factory that I would not dare add to an official report. I have been a field investigator for over ten years, and I know that my company does not invite speculation, or interpretations from those who witness an event, and all that preceded it. The story, as all stories of this nature go, involved superfluous details that wouldn’t have mattered in an official report, and I derived some of their testimonies second-hand from those I questioned. Again, this much of the information you will read below is not pertinent in an official report, but information that I determined necessary for completion of the story involved.

As an insurance investigator for over a decade, I’ve covered hundreds of thousands of workplace accidents, and I’ve covered my share of unfortunate deaths that resulted from those incidents. The number of deaths I’ve covered is probably far less than one would imagine, but every death is at the very least memorable, if not unforgettable. Especially when, as in the case of Mr. William Bentley, there are children involved. This particular incident left one pre-teen boy fatherless, and it left a widow. I never met this widow, or the boy, but everyone I talked to had nothing sorrow in their heart for the incident that occurred, and just about every witness I spoke with wanted me to offer them condolences, and they added that the Bentleys would be in their prayers going forward.

Whenever there is a death involved, or a memorable incident that leaves an affected soul maimed for life, I often do follow up. These follow ups, as in the case of William Bentley, are not of an official capacity. They are borne of a personal, selfish need to find out what happened.

As you will read below, many of those involved in offering me further details accused me of having a perverse curiosity. The insurance company that I work for wants to know the bullet points of the incident. I know that, the witnesses know that, and all of the other players involved know that, so most normally avoid offering me superfluous details when I approach them in an official capacity. As long as I’ve been doing this, however, incidents such as this one stick with me, and they trouble me. One particular incident that occurred about seven years ago in a rail yard has caused me sleepless nights and some attention deficit disorders. This occurred early on in my career, before I learned that if I didn’t fill in the blanks of what happened, the details of the story would plague me for weeks, sometimes years. Knowing the whole story allows me to sleep at night, no matter how harrowing the details, as it allows me to personally close cases in a way that allows me to continue working for an insurance company in this capacity. It might be a perverse curiosity, but I don’t think that covers it. I think I just have this personal need to close a case to my satisfaction.

Therefore, with one day left on my expense paid trip to the city where the incident took place, I decided to take a trip down to the bar that sat just outside the box factory, the undeclared, unofficial home away from home for all of the employees of the box factory.

I was impressed that the employees almost immediately tabbed me as the insurance investigator, and that I was not to be spoken to. They asked me to consider all parties involved, including Robert Johnson and his family.

“Imagine the kind of life he has to live from this point forward,” one of the waitresses said. Her anger was so personal and confrontational that she intimidated me. She was in my face, her teeth were showing, and she was pointing in my face. “He has to deal with whatever role he played in the incident for the rest of his life. I’m not assigning blame, or speaking ill of Robert Johnson, but I wouldn’t want to live with what he has to have on his mind now.”

I was impressed that a person who didn’t even work at the box factory, but dealt with them on a daily basis as a waitress, would have such loyalties. I assured her that I was not in the bar in any official capacity, and that my report had been signed, sealed, and delivered.

“Even still,” she said. “You’ve got perverse curiosity about you. Imagine how that young boy, Mr. Bentley’s boy, has to feel now. Imagine everything that kid will have to go through without a father. Kid’s going to have a rough life.

“I will not serve you,” she added, “but Dale said that if you go to the bar he will.” Dale was the bartender, and I assumed he was the proprietor of the bar. He was the only one at the bar who did not ostracize me in any way. The rest of them reached a consensus, and they informed all subsequent patrons of my position in life, and my “perverse curiosity”. They all agreed that there would be no talk of Bentley, Damn it! Johnson or the incident while I was in the confines of the bar.

I had almost given up, when the second shift began filtering into the bar. As the beer began to flow, and I involved myself in various other, mundane conversations, such as who was better Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth, the room began to warm to me, and details began spilling out.

“The [primary witness] was here just last night,” one of the females at the bar said. (It should again be noted that this person, referred to as the primary witness in this story, asked me to leave his name out of any reports official and otherwise, and I agreed to that, so this is the reason that the primary witness is also listed as such in this, the unofficial recounting of this story.)

I walked down to the end of the bar and sat with this woman to hear the rest of the story. She was perfectly willing to tell me everything that primary witness detailed for the patrons of the bar the night before, as long as I agreed to buy her drinks for the rest of the night. This would prove to be an expensive agreement, but as I wrote earlier, I considered it worth it to know the whole story.

“He had to get himself all good and plastered before he could talk about it,” she continued. “He was pretty shaken by the tragedy. The questions started as soon as he entered, but he said he didn’t want to talk about it. Seven or eight beers, all bought by the bar and other patrons I might add, opened him up a little.

“He was/is a very gracious man,” this female said of the primary witness. “He said, ‘Before I begin, I want everyone to take a knee and pray for William Bentley, William’s wife, and son.’ We didn’t take an actual knee, but the bar was so quiet you could hear a flea fart.” The female also added that, “William Bentley had been an employee for the company, for as long as any of us could remember, but he was a family man. He was one of the few who didn’t skip out to the bar after work, and he did not play for the company softball team, or anything like that. He clocked in at the factory, did his job, and clocked out to go spend the rest of the night with his boy. As such, we didn’t know him all that well, but we saw the kid, and the wife at company functions and such. We also saw him in the lunchroom, and he wasn’t a hermit, but he pretty much kept to himself, so when the primary witness asked us to remember William Bentley, and William Bentley’s family, we were all respectful and silent.

“The particulars of the incident beat the primary witness to the bar,” she said. “So, we told him he didn’t have to go through what had to gruesome details for him to relive. So, he starts out with, ‘I was standing right next to Damn it! Johnson when the incident went down. I was running, sprinting, to the stop button, because the machine was building up in such a way that I knew an incident would occur if I didn’t hit it. I was running so hard, and I focused so much attention on that button, that I missed the actual incident. I was, however, too far away to hit it in time.

“‘If I had been three to four steps closer,‘ the primary witness added. ‘I could’ve prevented everything from happening. Think about that for just a second. A blip of time. A couple steps here or there and we’re not talking about this here today. It goes to show you that life and death are all about timing.

“‘Mr. Bentley’s head was sitting about this far away from me,’ the primary witness said pointing to a spot on the floor about four tables away from his feet. ’It landed in such a way that it was facing Damn it! and me, looking right up at us. The timing of the incident might be what haunts me most. I think about the enormity of what happened, and all of the faces of people who tried to come to grips with what just happened, but the timing of it all will probably haunt me for the rest of my life. I’ll think about the silence that followed it too, right after I hit the machine and cut the power, and we all stood around and stared at one another in silence. I’ll probably obsess over the seconds involved. How, if I’d been standing here instead of there, I might have saved Mr. Bentley’s life. Another thing that will haunt me is how when it was all over, we tried to go back to the way life was before the incident. We tried to make it just another day. I don’t fault anyone for that effort, and I don’t think they were callous, but the attempts they made to return to normalcy may be the hardest aspects of this for me to shake.

“I may never be able to completely recover from what I saw today,’” the female recounted the primary witness saying. “He downed a shot of whiskey, and backed away from the bar to lower his head beneath it. Right before he did that, I could tell that he was overwhelmed. I patted him on the back, and we all encouraged him with words of support. When he recovered, he said, ‘As God as my witness William Bentley looked at Damn it! with disappointment. I couldn’t believe his face made an expression. I’m not a biology expert or anything like that, but I didn’t know a body-less head would be capable of expression.

“‘His eyes moved too,’ the primary witness informed the patrons that night, after taking two more shots of whiskey. ‘He looked from me to Damn it! That may be one of the images I remember when they pull the plug on me.

“‘If you know anything about decapitations,‘ the primary witness continued, ’You know that the French believed that a head survives a full five seconds beyond decapitation. I don’t know if it was the French that came up with this theory, or if I heard it in conjunction with the stories of the decapitations, and the French Revolution, and the stories of the guillotine and all that, but it is a theory that I believe after what I saw today.’ The primary witness then stopped the story and counted to five in Mississippis,” according to the woman relaying this story to me. “‘That’s a pretty significant chunk of time to remain alive and gather your surroundings, and react to what just happened, and I saw it. I saw life in Bentley’s eyes for a good amount of time. It may not have been a full five seconds, but I also saw him say something.

“‘This, I agree may be the hardest part to buy,‘ the primary witness conceded to the silent throng around him. ’I’m not sure if I believe it myself. It’s been a blur since it happened. I’ve given five different testimonies to five different people filing reports, police, insurance investigators, and the company men who interviewed me, and I left this little piece of information out of all of them. Some might say I left it out, because it’s not pertinent information to list in an official report, and it could be that I don’t want anyone to say that I’m as crazed as a fruit bat, but I swear that I saw that face on the head of William Bentley make facial expressions, and look from me to Damn it!, and then, and this is the part that unsettles me most. I don’t know if it’s so unusual that my mind can’t come to grips with it, or if it’s so usual, so common, that my mind has a tough time grasping it as something that happened, but I saw it, the head of William Bentley attempt to speak.

“‘I thought of asking Robert if he saw what I just saw, and I wish I would have, just to have someone else verify what I thought I saw,‘ the primary witness was reported to have said. ’You know how you turn to someone, after seeing something so incredible that you can’t believe it. You say something like, ‘You saw that right?’ but that’s something you say to someone when you see a wild deer in your backyard. You don’t say that to a man who just played a role, however accidentally, in another man’s death. Seeing what I saw is going to be tough for me to deal with, when I wake up tomorrow, and I’m no longer numb to it, or as drunk as I feel right now, but that’s nothing compared to what Damn it! will have to deal with for the rest of his life. If he doesn’t speak to a therapist, I’m probably going to suggest that he does, just to talk about it, but if he finds a way to get through it, I’m going to give him a call just to have him corroborate what I think I saw.’

“‘My second thought,’ the primary witness said. ’This is the point where you’re going to have to give me some points for the shake it caused me, but my second thought was to gather the head and put it on ice. Like I did when Phil Samuelson had his fingers cut off, and I raced with him to the hospital to have them sew his fingers back on. It was irrational, I know, and I didn’t take two steps to do it, but that was my second thought.’

“‘It was the worst moment of my life so far,’ the primary witness said, and he appeared to be done telling the story. I waited,” the female at the bar, told me. I didn’t want to ask the question, because I didn’t want to be one of those types who have a perverse curiosity, but I think everyone in the bar had the same question in their heads, and I was the only one with the courage to ask. ‘What did he say?’ was the question I asked.”

“He said, ‘What? Who?’ and he asked that, as if he genuinely didn’t know what I was asking, so I said,’ The head, William Bentley?’ He, the primary witness, was still confused. ‘You said that the head of William Bentley speak. What did he say?’”

“‘Oh right, ‘the primary witness said. He was drunk by this point, and he was having trouble standing, so one of the patrons of the bar, gave up his seat to the primary witness, so that he could continue. ’I am not a lip reader, and I would have to talk to Damn it! to verify what I think I saw, and I think if he had had more time, I’m sure Bentley would’ve left some profound thoughts as his last words, or some direction for the caretaking of his son, or the love he had for his wife, but he only had five seconds, as I just recounted for you. He only had enough time to gather his surroundings, realize what had just happened, and react to it. I don’t know if Damn it! would differ from me on this point, but I swear to God I saw Bentley’s lips move. There were no audible words to hear, as Bentley’s vocal chords were cut, and I was not expecting Bentley to say anything, so if Robert Johnson ever suggests that I saw what I wanted to see that would be just false, but I swore that Bentley looked right into Robert’s eyes with disappointment and said, ‘Damn it! Johnson’ one last time. He then closed his eyes like he was so disappointed in Johnson, and when he opened them, a second later, his eyes went lifeless.’”

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