Everyone who worked for Mac Alexander agreed he was a sour, unfeeling son-of-a-bitch.
“Battery acid,” said one. “Cut him and he bleeds battery acid.”
Mac Alexander ran construction jobs in and around Washington, D.C. with an iron hand. “Carry the load or hit the road,” he’d say. Show up late for work once and you’re history. No excuses, no second chances.
Workers hated him. Down at the local, the files overflowed from complaints.
But construction companies loved Mac Alexander. He could ramrod a job and deliver it on time and under budget. So what if a few egos got stomped? Time is money.
Alexander’s meanness was life long. His wife left him more than 20 years ago. His grown children shunned him.
“If somebody got hurt on the job, Mac would send him to the hospital, replace him and then never look back. He didn’t care,” says one worker. “He didn’t give a damn about anything or anybody.”
Ask around about Mac Alexander and that was the general consensus.
Except for Levon Billings.
Billings is a retired longshoreman who lived next door to Alexander for 11 years. Their ramshackle houses weren’t far from the biker and soldier bars which line Jefferson Davis Highway south of Washington.
Billings and Alexander drank boilermakers in those bars and sent more than a few bikers and soldiers to the hospital if they messed with either of them.
“From the day I met Mac, I knew he was a hard case,” Billings say. “He didn’t figure he owed anybody anything because nobody had ever done him a favor either.”
Billings and Alexander fought in Korea as Jarheads, young Marines who grew up fast and mean. Alexander honed his meanness on Washington construction sites while Billings worked and fought on the docks in Baltimore.
Both had wives leave them. Both had kids who didn’t keep in touch. Both ran tight ships on the job and didn’t much see the need to win popularity contests.
“Mac and I understood each other,” Billings says. “I guess you could say we were friends. We didn’t expect or demand a lot.”
Yet while Billings had known, drank with, and occasionally fought alongside Alexander for 11 years, his friend had never invited Billings into his home.
“The closest I’d every come was the front porch. We’d sit out on that porch and drink beer. That’s where he would sit with Russell.”
Russell was Alexander’s 19-year-old tabby cat, an old alley tom of dubious background. Russell was blind, his hips were gone and his bladder didn’t work as well as it should.
“We’d sit on the porch and he’d hold Russell in his lap. He’d wrap the cat in a towel because the damned animal would piss on him without knowing it. The cat should have been put to sleep years ago.”
They were sitting on the porch, drinking beer, shooting the shit, when Billings heard a low moan coming from his friend.
“I looked at Mac and he was looking down at the cat. I saw it had gone stiff and died. Mac just sat there and moaned. Then he started wailing like some old Arab woman at a funeral. He just sat there and wailed for a good 20 minutes. I didn’t know what to do. The man had never shown once ounce of emotion in the 11 years that I had known him.”
Alexander wrapped the cat in the towel, stood up, told Billings he would see him tomorrow, and went inside the house.
“I thought I knew Mac better than anyone, but I never would have guessed he would cry over a cat.”
The next morning, Billings noticed Mac’s truck still in the driveway at 11 a.m. He went over and looked in the window. Alexander seemed to be stretched out asleep on the couch.
He banged on the door. No answer.
He called the cops. They pounded on the door. No answer. The cops broke the front window out of the door and went inside. They found Alexander dead on the couch, still holding Russell in his blanket.
The medical examiner’s report couldn’t pinpoint exactly what killed Mac Alexander.
He didn’t have a heart attack. No drugs were found in his system. He was reasonably healthy for a 66-year-old man.
It was, the doctor concluded, as if he just decided to lie down and die.
Neither Alexander’s ex-wife nor his kids showed up for the funeral. Just Billings.
“I asked if Russell could be buried in the casket with him,” Billings said, “but they all looked at me like I was crazy and told me that state law didn’t allow an animal to be buried with a human being. Something about sanitation.”
So, later that night, after the grave diggers had used a backhoe to cover the grave, Billings went back with a shovel, dug a shallow grave over the vault and buried, atop his friend, the ashes of the only creature Mac Alexander ever loved.