The Legend of Big Bad John

By Mike Paterson-Jones. I moved to Fayetteville in the fall of 2015. I went there primarily because I had never been there with my ex-wife and it could therefore,not hold any memories for me. Besides, it was a pleasant little town on the banks of the Seneca River. It was a sight to see in fall, a blaze of yellow and orange and red. It also had a challenging golf course along the banks of the river.

On the day that I moved in, the removers had barely left when there was a knock on the door. It was the Sheriff. I quickly thought of any thing I might have done wrong in the four hours I had been in his jurisdiction and came up with a blank. Sheriff Meyer had come to welcome me to the town and to ask if I needed any help. I was surprised. Where I had lived for twenty years, two blocks from Central Park in New York, visits by law enforcement officers usually meant one two things: bad news or an arrest warrant. I offered the Sheriff a cup of coffee and he accepted. Once I had told him that I was from New York he monopolised the conversation. He told me that it was believed that sometime in the War of Independence, General LaFayette had stopped for a night at a farm on the banks of the Seneca River and hence the town’s name.

Meyer described all the amenities in the town such as the library, the clinic and Jo’s, apparently the best diner in town. I later learnt that itwas the only diner in town. The Sheriff was an overweight late middle aged man with a kindly face and when he had finished his coffee and made to go, his parting words did not fit my image of him.He said, “Chuck, we are a nice little town with no serious crime and we want to keep it that way. Have a good day.”I wondered why I should  be issued with a veiled warning. I was just an elderly writer running away from a financially demanding ex-wife and a dirty noisy city.

I settled well into life in the town. My colonial style house with two imposing Corinthian pillars at the front stood on a plot, half wooded, of some six acres. The first fall I found out that my little wood was home to deer and lots of wild turkeys. In the winter there were lots of cardinals that looked like pools of blood playing ln the snow. The sheriff  had been right about the diner and I was to be found there most days, either for a breakfast or a meal at night. The sheriff often joined me for morning coffee and slowly, very slowly, opened up about the town’s people.

The sheriff and I had become good friends, but it was almost two years before he told me about Big Bad John. He told me because it explained why Fayetteville had no serious crime and had been like that for at least five years. Big,Bad, John, the sheriff explained, lived on his own on a hundred acres on the west side of town. He made a living carving wooden objects made from dead branches he found  in his woods. He sold them to dealers in tourist towns and cities like Buffalo . John Walton grew up in Fayetteville alongside his twin brother Walt. They were both good athletes and fair scholars but,where as Walt was an outgoing jock, John was a reserved, shy person. The boy’s parents died when the boys were eighteen and the boys both went to Syracuse University on athletic scholarships.

When Walt and John had graduated they both came back to Fayetteville, lived in their parent’s home and both became  teachers at the local high school. Walt was popular with all his pupils and became a successful football coach. John discovered dried trees and started carving. John did wonder why Walt always had unbounded energy, could party on a Sunday night and still teach class on a Monday. It was only when Walt started to borrow money from him, that John realized that all was not well. He tackled his brother and asked him what was going on. Waly broke down and admitted to John that he was a meth addict, that he had started on methamphetamines while still at university. John was devastated. He had always looked up to his twin as the successful one, to discover that he was nothing more than a paper tiger

Over the next two years. Walt, financed by John ,went in to rehab several times, but could not shake the habit. He stopped eating properly and got thinner and thinner. He started feeling things under his skin and scarred his face trying to dig these things out of his flesh. He had long since had to stop teaching. When he died, John retreated into himself and gave up teaching. He seldom went to town. Sheriff Meyer went to see John now and again. One time John asked the sheriff who had supplied the meths to John. The sheriff said it was a Nigerian from Syracuse, but he could n’t prove it or he would have done something. The day after the sheriffs  visit, John went into town and talked to some people on the poorer side of town. The next day the sheriff was called to an injured man lying on the sidewalk in a backstreet. It was a Nigerian,with two broken  legs and two broken arms. The sheriff asked if the Nigerian knew who had assaulted him. The Nigerian replied, that the man said his name was Big Bad John. “ Never heard of him said the sheriff.”

In the months that followed a series of suspected drug dealers were found in various states of bodily harm. Some didn’t want to say who had damaged them and a couple mentioned a Big Bad John, who the sheriff had never heard of.   Most people in the town seemed to have heard of Big Bad John, but nobody talked about him not least Herman Folk ,who had been accused of raping a twelve year old girl. The sheriff had no proof and mentioned this to John. The next week Herman Folk had to travel to Syracuse to have surgery to restore his ability to procreate. He could not help the sheriff to identify his assailant, not that it was really necessary.

One drug dealer that tried to sell drugs to the towns school kids was treated badly by John and threatened to come back and shoot him. For some reason John believed him. Two nights later a figure wearing a balaclava crept through the woods to Johns house. He found a window open and fired at the shape on the bed. At almost the same time he found himself shot through both knees. John explained that the shape on the bed was two pillows under the duvet. As the man was wheeled away on a gurney, the sheriff whispered to him,” never mess with Big bad John.”The town of Fayetteville had no crime beyond the odd belligerent drunk or domestic spat for five years. Everybody in the town knew what was the legend of Big Bad John, but never talked about it to strangers.

John Walton died of pancreatic cancer before he was thirty. Almost the whole town attended his funeral, but did not say why. I was there standing outside the diner when a long caravan of cars passed, following the hearse. A tourist standing next to me said,” must have been pretty important. Who was he?”

“ Just an ordinary guy who loved this town,” I replied.