Longnecks & Twisted Hearts by George Wier

George Wier
By George Wier October 15, 2012 21:12

Longnecks & Twisted Hearts by George Wier

Summary:

What is the “blue bone” and what does a seventeenth-century French ship have to do with East Texas? When Bill Travis gets the word that his best friend has been murdered, he not only must take a trip back to the town where he grew up, he has to go up against some old ghosts who were better left alone. What modern secrets lie hidden in the dark beneath the countryside where Bill grew up? And what darker, more ancient secret lies hidden beneath them?

Excerpt:

CHAPTER TWELVE 

While there may be a governmental entity locally referred to as “The Coroner’s Office”, in practice it was little more than a sterile, cold, and badly lit room in the bowels of a local hospital.

It was just the two of us. I understood Mike Fields’ demurral to come with us, but still, I would have felt a little better about going in with the big man at my back.

“You’re sure you want to do this?” I asked Mary Jo. I knew I didn’t. The picture I had conjured in my head was bad enough, thanks to enough movies by George Romero and Stephen Spielberg.

“I’ll be fine, Bill,” she said. A good liar, that Mary Jo.

A young fellow, no more than about twenty-eight and wearing garish green and orange scrubs, got up from a desk across the cold room and walked towards us.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“This is Mary Jo Fisher. Her husband is Brad Fisher. Was, that is. She’s here to see the body.”

“Sure,” he said. “Come on.” He wore a relaxed attitude and a jovial smirk like he wore his scrubs—too much and out-of-place.

“Thank you,” Mary Jo said.

We followed him to a bank of drawers and without checking to make sure it was the right one, he pulled on a handle low to the floor. 

***** 

Brad’s body bore not so much as a mark. He could have been merely asleep, had it not been for his bluish and steely-gray pallor.

Beside me I heard Mary Jo’s sharp intake of breath.

“Mary Jo?” I asked.

“Why is he dead, Bill? He looks fine.”

“Mary Jo,” I said. “Mary Jo. This is just the husk. Brad’s gone. I don’t know why.”

It happened then. The floodgates opened. The dam burst. She was on her knees, her body thrown across his.

I could make out only a few words of what she said between the wracking sobs: “Cold. So cold… my Brad.”

I looked at the intern—doctor, whatever the hell he was. He rolled his eyes at the ceiling, and then met my gaze.

I frowned at him. It was so much nicer than putting his lights out, at least for him.

“You got a report?” I asked him. “Any kind of report?”

“Yeah,” he said. “There was no autopsy. Just the coroner’s report.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“He had all the outward signs of high voltage. You know, frizzed hair, muscular contraction. This guy was jolted.”

“Fine,” I said. “Let me see a copy.”

I noticed he was distracted by Mary Jo’s hovering over Brad’s body. She stroked his brow with her fingertips and whispered something to him.

“Sure,” he said, finally, then: “Can you make her stop that?”

I gave him a hard stare for a moment, and he got the communication. He held up his hands: fine, sorry.

I knelt beside Mary Jo.

“Mary Jo,” I whispered. “Time to go.” But my eyes were on Brad’s face.

Old friend, I thought, why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you let her call me?

Brad said not a word, and I suppose that was fitting. He rarely had in life.

“Mary Jo?” I pressed, gently.

“Okay, Bill. I’ll be alright,” she said, quietly.

“I know.”

I helped her to her feet. She opened her small purse, removed a tiny flower and placed it on his bare chest. The bud of a passion flower. I wondered what the next person along to open Brad’s drawer would think. To hell with it.

I reached down and pushed gently on the drawer, and Brad rolled slowly back into the darkness.

“Goodbye,” I whispered to him.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here, Bill,” Mary Jo whispered to me. 

***** 

We left the hospital, two page report in hand, and wandered out into the parking lot. Overhead thick clouds were rolling in, piling up on top of each other. I could smell the rain before the first drop fell.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN 

Core rods, Mike had said.

The words moved around inside my head like a steel ball in a pinball machine.

“Where are we going, Bill?” Mary Jo asked. “This isn’t the way home.”

“To see somebody,” I said.

The traffic was nervous with the anticipation of the impending downpour. A couple of thick drops thocked against the my windshield.

“Who?”

“One of the guys Brad worked with. The token black guy.”

“That would be Jones,” she said. “You know where he lives?”

“Sort of. You got a first name?”

“Irvin, I think. Something like that. Although I think he goes by some nickname.” Mary Jo took a look around her at where we were going. “We going to the plant?”

“I hope not, but maybe. Today’s a Wednesday. He could be at work, but it’s after hours. Unless, that is, he works second shift.”

“Do you believe in ghosts, Bill?” she asked as I pulled in behind a large concrete truck at the next red light. We’d be turning due east for awhile, then south.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because…”

“Spit it out, Mary Jo,” I said.

“Because every since Brad died, I’ve been feeling like I’m being watched. Just… every moment. That’s all.”

There was silence in the car for a moment. I was expecting her to ask me if I had a sense that Brad was hanging out close by, checking things out. Instead Mary Jo lapsed into silence.

“Okay,” I said. 

***** 

The rain came down in sheets.

Along the highway a mile past the power plant entrance, there was a row of dingey houses. These were working people, I could tell right off. Through the rain I could make out old pickup trucks that had seen better days, rusted A-frames for hoisting engine blocks, blue tarpaulins covering God knows what-all, and cast-off toys everywhere.

I pulled into the first driveway.

“Wait here, Mary Jo,” I said. And stay dry.”

I reached under my seat for my umbrella, and not finding it realized that I had left it at my office. Great.

“You’re gonna get soaked, Bill,” she said when I came away with nothing.

“Yeah. Be right back.”

I was on the front porch within a few seconds, but in that brief space I managed to get completely drenched. Water squished in my shoes.

The door bell hung from the wall on twisted wire. It looked dead.

I knocked.

The front door opened and I heard the babble of children’s voices in the background and a loud television—cartoons. I could smell boiling cabbage.

“Yes?” the woman asked.

She was very pretty but her face was implacably bored–a mid-thirtyish looker with a light movie-star complexion, she was the mother of all those voices inside.

“I’m looking for the Jones family. Do they live close by?”

“Who wants to know?”

I didn’t have to think about it. People are usually able to spot a lie from a mile away, and truth is usually best, if uncomfortable.

“Ma’am, my name is Bill Travis. I’m looking for the Mr. Jones who works at the power plant. His foreman, Brad Fisher, was killed, and I was Brad’s best friend.”

I waited.

She looked past me, out into the rain, then fixed her eyes on me, appraising.

“Come in. I’m Dorothy Jones. My husband is home sick today.” She pushed on the screen door.

I turned toward the car and tried to give Mary Jo the thumbs up, but I doubted she could see me through the pouring rain.

The house was clean but for the toys scattered everywhere. On the couch there was a bored teenaged boy of about fourteen, and on the floor three kids dismissed me with a glance and returned to watching some strange Japanese anime cartoon I’d never seen before.

“Come on back to the kitchen, Mr. Travis,” Dorothy Jones said. “You can’t hear yourself think in here.”

“Sandy!” Dorothy called out from the hallway to the kitchen, toward the rear of the house.

“What?”

“You got company.”

“I’m sick, Dotty.”

“You’re not too sick to sit and talk,” she replied.

The kitchen was clean. On the stove there was a pot of black-eyed peas just starting to boil over and the cabbage pot with its lid starting to do a little dance.

“Damn,” Dotty said. “Have a seat, Mr. Travis. Sandy’s gotta get his shirt on. You can’t leave food cooking for two minutes.”

“Fine,” I said.

“Iced tea?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am.”

Dotty Jones turned the fire down low on the peas, shifted the lid on the cabbage to let the steam blow off, and turned to the refrigerator and opened it.

“You’re soaked, Bill Travis,” she said.

“Yes ma’am.”

“I’ll get you a towel.”

She poured a glass of tea and set it before me and walked out of the kitchen to return with a clean towel.

“You coming, Sandy?” she called out loudly.

“I’m coming. I’m coming,” the voice was tired, hoarse, and resigned, all at once.

She draped the towel over my shoulder and I used it to wipe my face.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Fiddlesticks,” she said.

Sandy Jones emerged into the kitchen, buttoning the last two buttons of his shirt as he came. He was a tall man with a bit of graying grizzle in his side burns.

I started to stand, but he held up a long-fingered hand.

“Keep your seat, stranger. We don’t stand on ceremony around here. You selling life insurance?”

I laughed. “It would be easier if I was,” I said.

“What are you selling, then?”

“He ain’t selling nothing,” Dorothy Jones said. “This is Bill Travis, Brad Fisher’s best friend.”

I watched his face as she said it, and it sagged all of an inch.

“What you want?” he asked me.

“Sit down, Sandy,” Dotty said. “Be kind. His best friend just died.”

Sandy Jones sat down across from me.

“You’re wet,” he said.

“Yeah.” I did the best I could with the towel and launched into the questions before Sandy Jones had a chance to think of what he was going to say.

“Can you tell me about core rods and the hole and how Brad Fisher died? And why?”

“Shit,” he said. “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” I said.

“Look Mister…”

“Bill,” I said, maintaining a thin smile.

“Bill. Fine. Look… I’ve got a family to look after. I have to report to a parole officer once a week who doesn’t give a shit about me or my family. I can’t get caught up in anything.”

“Sure,” I said. “If you are able, I’d like to know those three things, and then I’ll disappear back into the rain.”

“Tell him, Sandy,” his wife said, hot pot of steaming cabbage in hand. “You can’t even sleep right. You’ve got to tell somebody. This fellow is your chance.”

“He ain’t my chance if I lose my job.”

“If you lose that damned job I’ll dance with bells on my toes. You’re a hard worker. There’s always a job for you, and maybe a job where somebody will appreciate you.”

Sandy Jones signed, loudly.

And then he told me. 

***** 

“Them things are scattered all over the place, and they’ll kill you if you get too close or stay too long. Core rods, you know. It’s the radiation. I was there when the first ones came through and I’ve seen the trucks come and go. I even know the name of the driver. They’re in the hole, deep down there. They have them placed in bundles of no more than five at a time. I think one of them is enough to kill a man. One is dangerous. Five? Don’t get me started. I’ve done some thinking on it. What can they do with those old rods that come from the nuke plants? It’s about money, that’s all. And the hole is just a little cave that leads down to a big cavern. There’s a whole series of those caverns. I spent a whole weekend down there one time, and found some stuff that shouldn’t have been there.”

“What kind of stuff, Sandy?” I asked.

“A lot of Indian pottery, arrowheads and stuff. Skeletons too. Then there’s the chests and the diary.”

“What diary?”

“It’s in French. I don’t know French.”

“You got it here?”

“Yeah. I’ll show it to you. Mr. Travis, you believe in ghosts?”

I shivered, and not from my dampened condition. It was the second time that day I’d heard that question.

“Why?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try me, Sandy.”

“‘Cause one of those chests is haunted.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN 

I tried to piece together as much of the journal as I could, there in Sandy and Dorothy Jones’ living room. The book was written in several hands, beginning with the original owner, Louis du Orly. That name I could make out, but little of the remainder of it. My French was not good.

I handed the journal back to Sandy Jones and got up and stretched my legs. I nodded to Dorothy Jones and headed for the front door.

“Mr. Travis,” Sandy said. “Maybe you should hold onto this. I’ve got no real use for it.” He handed the journal back to me.

We stepped outside.

“Well, if it’s alright with you,” I said. “How about I make a copy of it and return the original to you?”

The rain had slackened to a drizzle once again.

“That’s fine. Whatever. Mr. Travis, I think you should see that hole.”

“Call me Bill,” I said. “I do want to see that hole. But I’ve got a woman in the car who needs to get home. I’m not sure of her safety at this point.”

“Safest place for her would be here with my wife,” he said, and I met his searching gaze.

It felt right. There were things going on that I had no idea about. And I still hadn’t seen that investigator that Mary Jo had told me about. Mike Fields was probably on the job just now at the power plant up the road. I was unsure how safe Mary Jo would be at home without me around. Not until a few things were settled.

“Sandy,” I said. “How safe is that hole? What I mean is, I’ve got a wife of my own at home with a baby coming, and she’ll be mad as hell if I come home in a pine box.

“I know where all the booby traps are, Bill,” he said.

I looked toward the car. Mary Jo yawned, caught sight of me, then gave a little bored wave.

“When do you want to do this?” I asked him.

“It’s right now or not at all,” he said.

“Why ‘not at all’?”

“Because, I’m supposed to be home sick. I’ve got to work tomorrow. After that, the only chance is the weekend, and that place is closed off tighter than a four by four shoved up a cow’s ass.”

“That’s pretty tight, Sandy,” I said. 

***** 

Mary Jo was delighted at the prospect of staying with Dotty Jones and her kids while Sandy was to “show me a few things.”

“You two be careful,” Dotty Jones called out through the screen door as we stepped into the drizzle.

I turned back to her. “Mrs. Jones. I’m never careful. What I am, though, is thorough.”

“Good enough,” she said.

I stopped by my car, placed the journal, all wrapped up as it was with cellophane, under the driver’s seat and out of sight. I locked the car all the way around and then followed Sandy to his battered Ford pickup and climbed inside.

“That woman,” he said, depositing a pretty beat-up five gallon brown paper sack filled with flashlights and other odds and ends on the floorboard at my feet. The old truck smelled like spent cigarette butts and old sweat.

“Who?” I asked.

“My wife. She’s good,” he said, “don’t get me wrong, but she thinks too much.”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I like a woman who thinks for herself.”

“Got one of those, do you?”

“Damn right,” I said.

“She trouble?”

“Plenty.”

“Good,” he said, and turned the ignition key. “I hate bein’ wrong. She pretty?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Even better.” 

***** 

Instead of going to the power plant main gate, Sandy turned off to the left several hundred yards to the south of it, got out and fished out a key for the large pad lock on the single bar steel gate, pulled through, then went back and locked it up again.

“The lock was on,” he said, once back inside the truck, “which usually means that no one is around. But just in case, if anybody sees us, you’re an inspector from the state office.”

“You mean lie about it. I don’t have any kind of a badge to convince anybody.”

“So. Just act like a jerk and stare them down. That usually works, and these people can’t think for themselves. They’ve got to have somebody higher up do their thinking for them.”

“Okay,” I said.

We bounced along a muddied, caleche-gravel path through stands of trees and across an open field. Cows stopped chewing on wet grass and stared at us.

“All of this was strip-mined a few years back,” Sandy moved his hand to take in the whole field. “Lignite field, you know. Had to put it all back the way they found it, or mostly, and it’s starting to grow back a little now.”

I nodded.

We went over a hill and down a winding course that threaded close to the trees again.

“It was found during the lignite years, early on.”

“Who found it?” I asked.

“Me,” Sandy said.

“Oh.”

“I thought about not reporting it, but then somebody else would have fallen in and gotten themselves killed, and I didn’t want anything like that bothering me, you know?”

“Yeah.”

After ten minutes of driving through the rough countryside, Sandy pulled off the narrow gravel path and behind a stand of yaupon scrub and stopped.

“We walk from here,” he said. “I don’t want my truck tracks anywhere near it.”

“Fine,” I said.

We got out. The clouds overhead were dispersing and to the west the sun was trying to poke through.

“Good timing,” Sandy said. “I didn’t want to get too wet.”

We walked, cutting through the scrub brush along what could be described as no more than a cow path. My shoes picked up a good deal of mud, but I scraped it off whenever I could; here on a matt of thick weeds, there on a fallen tree branch.

After ten minutes we came around yet another stand of brush behind a high board fence that looked as out of place in a cow pasture as my Dr. Martin shoes.

Behind the fence I could make out a tin roof.

“It’s supposed to look like a barn, but it doesn’t have much floor on the inside of it, if you know what I mean.”

Sandy rounded the fence and I followed. We came to yet another padlock that resembled the first and Sandy used a key from his large key ring, and the lock opened and we slipped through.

The wooden building was nestled inside the fence with no more than a few feet between them. The door in front of us had a simple board with a single nail through it into the front wall which Sandy turned easily. The door opened.

Sandy reached in the bag, clicked on his flashlight and inspected the interior.

“Anybody home?” he called out. I heard a dim echo. Sandy laughed.

“Nope,” he said. “Just us chickens.”

He reached up and tugged on a string and an electric light came on. 

***** 

The hole was twelve feet wide by about ten long, and encompassed half the interior floor space.

The smell was musty and strong.

“Smells like mold and chlorine,” I said, then I pegged it. “Bats, I’ll bet.”

“Hell yes,” Sandy said. “Used to be millions of ‘em, but we killed most of ‘em.”

“Another environmental catastrophe,” I said.

“That’s what I thought, too. Ever time I have to slap a mosquito, I think about all those dead bats.”

From the electric bulb overhead and Sandy’s wandering flashlight I could make out the rough, dry walls of the hole. Ten feet down the topsoil gave out and what appeared to be shale and rock took its place.

“Over here,” Sandy said.

I looked where his light flicked and there was a steel boom against a side wall with a basket configuration and a motor and winch.

“That doesn’t look promising,” I said.

“Oh, it’s safe. If it can hold Mike Fields, it can hold you and me.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” I said.

Sandy laughed again, and I couldn’t help smiling. 

***** 

“Stupid question,” I said, fifty feet below the surface. Above the dwindling light looked a world away, and below, only blackness. Sandy had one hand around the steel cable and the other around the flashlight.

“What?” he asked, and shined his light on the walls.

“How do we get back up?”

“Damn, forgot about that!” he said.

“What?”

“Just kidding. Look, all we have to do is give the line a jerk to make sure it’s tight, then hit a switch down there that reverses the winch.”

“Oh.”

Down, down into the darkness. The air grew cooler and more dank.

The floor came up to meet us, or at least it felt that way, and I removed the safety rope and clip from the cable.

“How far down are we?” I asked, and my voice traveled long and far and came back to me in a faint echo.

“Couple of hundred feet.”

“Just asking,” I said.

Sandy handed me a flashlight

I clicked my light on, panned it about. The hole above us had tapered until it was a very narrow entrance to the small cavern where we stood. To my left was another narrow entryway to a larger, darker space beyond.

“Not that way,” Sandy said.

“Core rods?” I asked.

“You betcha. Come on,” he said. 

***** 

Sandy led me through an even narrower passage that opened out after a dozen yards into a large cavern that swallowed our light.

I felt a drop of water on the top of my head.

“It’s raining,” I said.

“You’re no spelunker, Bill Travis.”

“I know.”

“Stalactites dripping is what that is. Always dripping, especially after a hard rain.”

I followed Sandy along a limestone trail. The place was awash with little sparkles of light reflecting back from our flashlight beams. Great stalagmites grew from the cavern floor like the boles of bald cypress. Pools of translucent and milky water were everywhere.

“Watch your step, Bill,” Sandy said.

“Sure thing.”

“It’s the next cavern over.”

“The chests?”

“Yeah.”

I followed him along the undulating path, the rough, hard floor of the cavern dipping down toward little pools of water, then abruptly up again over small ridges. I would have to do some studying up on caves and cave systems.

We went through another narrow crevice and we had to turn sideways, duck down and slink our way through.

The cavern we emerged into was decidedly different from the first. Here the stalagmites were larger, some meeting their mates a third of the way up to form great columns. How long would that take? I did know that they formed slowly, over hundreds and even thousands of years drip by infinitesimal drip. How much building matter could be contained in one drop of water? A few thousand molecules? Who knew. All I did know was that the cavern was old. Older than man? Perhaps. Was it here when dinosaurs roamed the Earth? Probably not.

“Look, Bill,” Sandy said.

I turned my light to follow his, and there, high up on the cavern wall was a treasure beyond price.

We were looking at a pictograph mural of vast extent, etched into the wall. It began six feet up and went as high as thirty feet. I began to imagine the amount of labor the endeavor had required, and all of it high work. Where were the pole marks against the walls? An image leapt into my head of a tower of natives standing on the shoulders of the one below him until there was a neat ladder of six or seven of them. God! Who knew how it was done?

“Indians,” I said. “But which tribe?”

“I don’t know anything about it,” Sandy said. “Maybe many different tribes over lots of years. It just… it feels old.”

“Yeah.”

We went along the wall slowly, moving our lights between it and the floor so as to assure our footing.

There were symbols there that I had seen in textbooks, and many others I’d never seen, perhaps no one in modern times had seen. The sun and moon were prominent, not in size, but in recognizability and repetition. Warriors with spears and bows, tepees, pregnant maidens, bison herds, strange floating icons which were likely weather phenomena or shooting stars. A wooly mammoth being brought down with shillelaghs! I picked out a comet. And then came the oddest and creepiest of all: a sailing ship, complete with square-rigged sails and ropes and a bow effigy of a woman with large breasts.

“Damn,” I said.

“Yeah. Bill, we can’t stay here long. There’s a stack of core rods over there. No one knows how radioactive they are, so it’s better we keep moving.”

I swung my flashlight in the direction he indicated, and thirty feet away on the floor of the cavern was a dingy metal rack with five steel tubes.

“Jesus,” I said.

“Come on. We’re almost there.” 

***** 

“It’s gone,” Sandy said. He stood on a hump of limestone and shined his light into a large alcove.

“Thieves,” I said. “Desecrators.”

“Desecrators,” Sandy repeated. “That’s a big word. Sounds pretty bad.”

“It is. It’s anybody that robs a tomb or destroys something of benefit to mankind. How many chests were there?”

“Five big ones and one small one.”

“The small one…” I began.

“Yeah. The one that was haunted,” he said.

Sandy shined his light along the floor close by.

“Check this out,” he said. I saw what he meant. There were grooves in the cavern floor, going back the way we’d come.

“Tell me what you think,” I said.

“I didn’t think anybody knew about the crates except me.”

“Did you ever open them?”

He hesitated.

“You’d better spill it,” I said.

“Okay,” he signed. “I did open one.”

“The haunted one?”

“No. I wouldn’t have touched that one for anything. No. One of the others.”

“And you took something,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Yeah.”

“What’d you find, and what’d you take?”

“A croaker sack full of gold, rubies, and big green gems.”

“What about the skeletons?” I asked. “You said something before about skeletons.”

“Oh. Oh shit. You’re right.”

“What?”

“They’re gone.”

CHAPTER FIFTEEN 

It was growing dark by the time we made it back to Sandy and Dotty Jones’ place. A full moon was on the rise, its white, skeletal glow spectral between a branchwork of dark oak and other, unnamable trees.

Inside the television was silent. Mary Jo, Dotty and three kids sat around the living room coffee table playing Monopoly.

“Who’s winning?” I asked.

Mary Jo looked up as we tromped in.

“Bill!” she said. “You looked like you fell in a hole somewhere.”

“Practically,” I said.

Dotty and Sandy exchanged knowing looks.

“Sorry to interrupt your game,” I said, “but I think it’s time I took you home, Mary Jo.”

“Nonsense. I’m winning.”

And so she was. There was a stack of bills in front of her nearly an inch high while all the other players were dealing with singleton ones, fives, twenties and fifties. Most of Mary Jo’s bills were yellow and orange.

“Looks like it,” I said.

Sandy and I stood there over their shoulders and watched. It was all over but the shouting. One kid, Ames, the littlest, went around the board three times dodging all of Mary Jo’s hotels and paying out most of the two hundred he collected each time to the pile in the middle of the board. He was stuck in jail and about to roll the dice again when there was a resounding double thump at the front door.

I felt a chill.

If that was friendly knock, then I had never heard one.

The house was suddenly quiet. Not a movement, not a peep came from the table. Mary Jo’s eyes met mine. They were eyes of fear.

“Open up, goddammit!” someone outside shouted.

Sandy was moving toward the door on the balls of his feet. I grasped his elbow and shook my head “no” silently when he turned to look back at me.

“Let me,” I whispered.

I moved behind the front door. I reached over and turned the lock very slowly, hoping it couldn’t be heard outside.

The man outside cursed, as if to himself, although I wasn’t ready to rule out that he had someone with him. Then I heard it: “Goddamned niggers.”

I mouthed to Sandy: “You got a gun?”

It was a stupid question, I thought. Sandy was a felon, on parole. He would never be allowed to own a gun again in his life.

“Yes,” he nodded.

He reached behind the chair in the corner and brought out a twelve gauge shotgun. I watched as he thumbed the safety off.

I mouthed to Dotty: “Back door. Lock it.”

I’d almost told her to call the sheriff’s office, but then I remembered that Sandy was a felon. The sheriff was the last person we needed to call.

The front door shook in its facing to a hard rap from outside and I nearly leapt out of my skin.

“Open up!” the man at the door shouted. “Or I’m coming inside.”

From five feet away and almost a forty-five degree angle, Sandy held the scattergun pointed at the center of the front door.

“Hey out there!” I raised my voice. “Anybody coming in is coming in dead!”

I listened close beside the door. There were whispers and a squish of shoes going around the corner of the house out there. They were circling around. Then I heard it. A loud sigh, not three feet from me on the other side of the door. There was more than one of them.

“Look” the gruff voice said. “I’m going to make this easy. Tell that nigger in there to throw out that sack of gold and shit, or we’ll burn your asses out of there.”

I looked over at Mary Jo. She was trying to say something, but I could make out what she was mouthing at me.

“Get those kids down on the floor,” I hissed at her, as quietly as I could, but so that I knew she would hear me.

Sandy took two steps to the front door, coming perfectly in line with it.

I looked at him standing there, casting his tall shadow on the front door from the lamp behind him. He was shaking, but not with fear.

“Nobody,” he said quietly, “is going to threaten my family.”

“Sandy,” I said, “don’t.”

But he did.

The roar was that of lightning splitting a tree, and it reverberated inside the house and in my head for a good long time to come. 

***** 

After opening the front door I reached over and plucked the shotgun from Sandy’s hand. I peaked outside.

There was a horrible jagged hole in the center of the Jones’ front door, and outside, at the foot of the steps, I saw another jagged hole in the chest of the man who had been standing there.

His breathing was even more ragged and there was a perplexity on his face. Several feet away there was a large silvery handgun glinting in the porch light. I suddenly knew it was what he’d rapped the front door with.

I turned to Sandy.

“This is my gun, Sandy,” I said. “It was always my gun. I came to ask you if you would take me coon hunting and I brought my own gun, got it?”

He stood there, in shock. In the front yard the wounded man was moaning, if not dying.

“You’re a felon. You see a parole officer once a week. Remember? It’s my gun, got it?” I asked again.

“Okay,” he said.

“Good. There’s another one out there. I’m going out there. You’re staying in here. Close this door and lock it. And call the Sheriff.”

“Thank you, Bill,” he said.

I glanced back at the children, who were looking at their father’s back and then at me. A knowingness passed between us, all of us.

“Thank you, Mr. Bill,” the oldest boy said.

Dotty was standing there behind the table, her hands pressed against her mouth.

“Take care of them, Mary Jo,” I said, then turned to face the open doorway and the dying man beyond.

Copyright© George Wier. All rights reserved.

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George Wier
By George Wier October 15, 2012 21:12
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