After the storm, the entire mountain was made of uncut diamonds. The early morning sunlight reflecting off the ice made the road leading to the Burroughs’ home as bright and colorful as a North Georgia Christmas card. Everything sparkled with brilliant light, color and glitter.
Jenny turned from the window. “You need to get off your lazy ass up and get that fool off my porch. If he keeps banging around out there, he’s going to wake up Rabbit and I’m not gonna listen to a pair of young’uns hollering.”
Scabby Mike rubbed at his nose. “Just go back to your room, Jenny.”
“No will not, ‘just go back to my room’. That goddamn storm done knocked out my TV, so I got nothin’ to drown them out. So now, all I can hear is that young’un in the back snorin’ and that asshole outside scratchin’ and talking to himself. I’m about to lose my fuckin’ mind. Do something.”
Scabby Mike tamped out his smoke in an ashtray overflowing with crooked butts, and let his irritation with his sister override his irritation about dealing with the problem outside.
“All right, goddamn it, but I’m telling you, if that idiot tries to pull me into any of his shit, I swear to god I’m going to kill him myself.”
“Like that wouldn’t be a blessing,” Jenny said, and slammed the bedroom door as she walked out.
Mike’s sister let him crash over here at her place sometimes when the weather got rough, and with the storm coming last night, he figured her place was a better spot to ride it out than his piece of shit trailer. Hell, he wasn’t even sure if his trailer was there anymore and he had no plans to go and check. Now that word was out about what happened to Gareth in his own barn, Mike decided it was best to just sit tight right where he was. Halford would be on the warpath, and Mike wasn’t nearly dumb enough to get caught on the wrong side of that hurricane. Of course the wrong side of it was now bouncing around all over his sister’s porch like a fucking chimpanzee at a zoo. Mike knew why Buckley was out there, and he knew why he hadn’t bothered to knock on the door. He was out of dope, and he was out of money, and he was hopin’ Mike or Jenny would feel sorry for him and come shovel free shit up his nose. Mike thought about the first time he shared his stash with him, and the great time they had. Old Bill Dooley was cooking up some prime cut back then, and Mike was having a night for the books. He must’ve taken every dollar out of every pocket that night down at Aces and Eights, and pool wasn’t even his game, but he was killin’ it. He even took a c-note off that dipshit Deputy, Choctaw. He just went to take a piss when that dumbass outside barreled into the Ace’s bathroom and got all up in his business.
“Whatcha got, Mike?” he said. “Lemme hit it Mike.” “I got five on it, Mike.” So, fuck it. Mike let him, and then the fuse was lit. Sure, that night was a blast. They stayed out partying at the pond once they shut down the bar, and watching that idiot bang Stella Thomas like a porn star on fast forward—right out in the open in front of everybody—was hilarious. That guy went full blown nuts that night, but everyday since then had been an absolute nightmare. Trying to keep it from Halford was bad enough when he still had a handle on it, but now that he’d completely lost his shit, it was only a matter of time before he got to running his mouth and let Mike’s name slip out.
Mike leaned over and snorted a thin rail of crank off the bedside table that he’d left for his sister. She either forgot it was there or was saving it for later, but fuck her for making him get up. He leaned his head back and let the burn bleed down his throat. Once the tear formed in his eye, he wiped his nose with his coat sleeve and stood up. He tucked the gun from the kitchen table into his pants on his way to the door and clicked open the dead bolt. It was bad enough this asshole knocked up his sister and then acted like the kid didn’t even exist, but to show up here all tweaked out after what just happened, and hope to use sympathy over his old man as a means to mooch off her was just a little too far over the line.
Mike stepped out on the porch, and pulled his coat in tight around him. It was cold as a witch’s titty. Buckley was sitting on the railing with nothing on but a long unbuttoned flannel shirt, jeans, and a pair of workbooks. He was immune from the cold, and even with half a jar of shine in him, he was too spun out to be drunk. He just swayed back and forth looking as wild and twitchy as a squirrel in the road. “What the fuck, Buckley? Why ain’t you at the house with your brother tryin’ to sort shit out?”
“He don’t need me there. He’s got his real family with him. Him and Clayton—two peas in a pod. Fuck them both.”
“What are you talking about, Buck? Your Deddy is dead, man. Jimbo come around here earlier talking about it. Shit is about to blow up. You need to get a little more of that shine in you to even out and get home.”
Buckley exploded off the railing and yelled into Mike’s face. “I know my fuckin’ Deddy’s dead.” Mike just turned his head to avoid the horrible stink that came along with Buckley’s breath. Even the frigid mountain air couldn’t freeze up that rotten smell. “I saw it,” Buckley said. “I saw him all burnt up and shit. You didn’t. You didn’t see shit. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. It wasn’t. And do you think Halford gives a shit? He doesn’t. He’s got Johnny Law up there wit him, as if he didn’t take a big ‘ol giant piss right down Deddy’s neck and now, lookie here, Deddy’s dead and fried and all of a sudden everything is all peachy. We’re all one big happy family, now, except I ain’t all that fuckin’ happy. You know?” Buckley had paced the porch at least a dozen times since he started his soliloquy, and punctuated the stream of crazy by turning up the jar of white lightning and guzzling a third of what he had left. He coughed hard, because gasoline still burned even if you couldn’t feel it. He leaned over the railing and let the drool drip off his sagging bottom lip in a thin stand that almost reached the frozen dirt below before snapping in half.
“God. Damn.” Mike stood amazed that anyone could be pumped that full of various poisons and still be able to draw breath. It was like watching death play a cruel trick by refusing to do its job. Mike thought about pulling out the gun in his waistband and just blowing the poor bastard’s head off right there. He figured he might feel worse if he didn’t do it, than if he did. But that wasn’t gonna happen. Buckley was a Burroughs. So it didn’t matter how fucked up he was. Buckley had amnesty. No one killed a Burroughs—except maybe another Burroughs.
“I can get a smoke, Mike.” Buckley sounded right-minded for a second.
“Yeah, Buck.” Mike pulled his cigarettes out and laid one on the rail next to Buckley. “So Clayton is up there at your Deddy’s right now?
“Yeah, that little faggot is up there. Like he has any right.”
“What’d he say happened?”
“How the fuck would he know what happened? He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.” Buckley was getting loud again. He snatched up the cigarette and put it in between his dry chapped lips. It bounced as he talked. “Halford said an hour. Peckerwood made up his own time I guess. Piece of shit.” Mike had no idea what that meant, but he didn’t want to get him all riled up again so he left it alone. He wanted to ask him what he meant by what he’d said a minute ago. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” But he left that alone, too. Buckley was a time bomb with the ticker stuck at two seconds, and Mike didn’t want to be the one to give it a hard enough tap to start the clock.
“You got fire?” Buckley asked.
“It’s in the house.” Mike put a smoke in his mouth as well. “You don’t?”
“Where’s that nice Zippo I gave you. I got some fluid in the house if it’s out.”
“It ain’t out. I left it at Dooley’s. I’ll go get it later.” That meant he gave it to Dooley for a bump or two. “You holdin’?”
“Yeah, but you need sleep, not dope.”
“Everybody wants to tell me what I need. I swear, one of these days I’m gonna let all y’all know what I need and it ain’t gonna be pretty. I can tell you that.”
Mike knew it was more crazy talk, but it was first time it sounded like a crazy threat. This was gonna have to stop before they all ended up dead—him, Jenny, maybe even Rabbit. “There’s a baggie on the kitchen table next to my lighter. There ain’t much, but you can have it, if you promise to keep it down in there. The powers out and Jenny ain’t got no TV, so she’s a miserable bitch right now.”
Buckley didn’t hesitate to make for the front door. Mike grabbed his arm and almost snatched it off. “You heard me, Buck? You gotta be quiet.”
“Yeah, goddamn it, I heard you.” Buckley couldn’t keep his eyes focused enough to hold Mike’s stare.
“Look, Dooley is shut down due to the storm, but I know I guy down in Hartwell that has a ton for the taking. He’s cheap, too. If you want in on that, you be quiet in there, and then we can get you re-upped. Okay?”
Mike let him go and Buckley jetted through the door, making a straight line for the kitchen. Mike sat on the porch and broke his cigarette in half. He hated smoking. Today he’d try to quit one more time. He was done with the dope, too. That lie he’d just told about a connect in Hartwell was just to insure Buckley stayed quiet in the house. He was like a child having to be bribed into good behavior with a reward. Once Mike was fairly sure Buckley was in there finishing off his stash, he took out his billfold. Underneath his driver’s license, was a white card with a name and number. He just held it for a while, and tapped it on his knee a few times. The other night at Aces and Eights, this fella came up to Mike like he knew him. Like they buddies. Mike could smell the cop stink on him the second he walked in, and called him on it. Surprisingly, this guy didn’t even try to deny it. He said he was looking into Buckley. He was looking at finding out about some other folks, too. Old Bill Dooley most likely. He said if Mike ever wanted to help his friend, that maybe getting his ass locked up was the best thing Mike could do for him. Maybe it would even bump Dooley of the mountain as well so Mike could clean himself up. Fuck it, Mike was tired of being stressed about it. He took out his cell phone and dialed the number on the card. He looked over his shoulder at the front door. It was still closed. Buckley was probably going through all the laundry looking for loose cash. Mike didn’t care. He got up and paced around the yard while the phone rang.
“Georgia Bureau of Investigation” a voice finally said. “How may I direct your call?”
Mike held up the card so he could read the name. “I need to speak to an agent named Holly.”
“Can I tell him who’s calling?”
“Tell him its Mike Cummings. I asked me to call.”
“Please hold while I transfer you, Mr. Cummings.”
“A’ight.” Mike held the phone out in front of him. He thought about hanging up right then. He thought about the dice he was rolling by even holding onto that card, but then he thought about the dice he already rolled the minute he set Buckley up in that Bathroom all those months ago.
A voice came on the line, and Mike held the phone back up to his ear.
“This is Holly. Mike, are you there?”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“What can I do for you?”
“The other night you was askin’ about my boy Buckley Burroughs.”
“That’s right. Do you have something you want to talk about?”
“I’m gonna need assurances, Holly. I need to know that I’ll be kept out of it.”
“Mike, please, call me Simon.”