Hidden Past Part Three

Then things happened all at once. It was Sunday afternoon when everybody should be taking things easy. The boy wasn’t. I saw him take off with a look on his face that sure gave me a bad feeling. He was headed for Hank’s place and he didn’t look like he was going acourtin’. The buggy would be too slow so I borrowed a horse at the livery stable and took off after him.

By the time I got there he had a gun on Hank. They stood on the porch. No dogs around so they must be with Mary in the barn or someplace.

“Wait,” I yelled, and jumped off the horse as fast as I could. I kept my hands up away from my gun, but I had on a long coat so there wasn’t any way I could get to it fast anyhow. “What’s going on here?”

“I’ve found the killer of my father.”

“You must have just heard something. What was it.”

“Heard that Hank here used to be a gunfighter.”

“That so.” I was on the porch now. “So what are you going to do?”

“Shoot him. Like he did my pa.”

“You mean, you’re going to outdraw him?”

“He didn’t give my pa that chance, so I’m not going to give him the chance either.”

I realized that was his reasoning all along, not that it mattered now. He was scared, the gun shaking.

“Let’s back up a minute. Hank here didn’t kill your father.”

His eyes glanced over at me. If Hank had wanted to, he could have shot him in that moment. But he didn’t.

“Yeah. Then who did?” He glanced back at Hank.

I stepped between them.

“I did.”

“No. You’re just trying to save his life. He’s no good….” But he couldn’t go on, couldn’t see too well with the tears in his eyes..

“I’m going to tell you the truth, but you’re not going to believe me. Your daddy drew first. He was fast. I dropped to the ground so he missed and I got a shot off. Hit him square in the chest.”

I could hear Hank behind me making noises like he wanted to say something.

“My pappy drew first?”

“Like I said, he was fast. Wasn’t expecting me to drop out of the line of fire like I did.”

The boy looked dazed. “You?” he said. He looked over my shoulder at Hank but his gaze was sightless.

I didn’t say anything. Wasn’t sure how this was going to play out. But I knew I was plumb worn out waiting for this thing the kid had for revenge to come to a head. When a wound is festering, you’ve got to squeeze all the poison out.

“If you’re going to shoot somebody it’s got to be me.” I stood there waiting for him to decide, something he’d been in a tizzy about all along.

“You didn’t do anything before because you didn’t have the proof. Now you have it. You’re either going to shoot me and give up doctoring–because you can’t go on with learning about that if you’re ready to kill somebody. And you’re not going to be wedding Mary because you’re going to be on the run from the Sheriff. He’ll be after you before your gun gets cold. Probably sic some bounty hunters on you.”

The boy’s eyes looked into mine as though he wanted to see right into my brain and know what I was thinking. I stared him right back and hoped he couldn’t read my thoughts.

“See that’s what we were doing that day, looking for a man who’d shot somebody. Gotta tell you the Sheriff from your town was there and he saw what happened. He didn’t lock either of us up, just told us to keep on moving. Which we did. Never did get the guy we were after.”

I was talking slow and soft keeping my hands in sight, standing as still as I could. The boy’s eyes wavered. He wasn’t looking at Hank over my shoulder anymore. He was just sort of looking past him. Like he didn’t know what to do.

I was so close I could have grabbed his gun, but that wouldn’t make any decisions for him. This had to be resolved. He had to decide he was going to avenge his father’s death, or think about his own life and what he was going to do with it.

gaykinmanDr. Gay Toltl Kinman has eight award nominations for her writing, including three Agatha Award nominations; several short stories in American and English magazines and anthologies; eight children’s books; a Y.A. gothic novel; two adult mysteries; several short plays produced; over one hundred and fifty articles in professional journals and newspapers; co-edited two non-fiction books; and writes three book review columns, and articles for two newspapers. Kinman has library and law degrees. http://gaykinman.com

There was a call from the barn. Mary. Johnny turned, distracted. I could’ve grabbed his gun or could’ve pulled mine out. Maybe that’s what he wanted. But I didn’t.

Mary didn’t seem to notice the gun in his hand or the way we were standing with me in front of Hank.

He stood there, watching Mary walk toward us, the dogs dancing around her, running forward to us then back to her, like she was some sort of fairy princess, who had power over all the animals.

If she guessed something was wrong, she didn’t let on, but she did have a puzzled look on her face. “Are you staying to dinner, Doc? Johnny?”

The boy tried to say something to her, but it was only a strangled sound. Then he jumped off the porch, ran to his horse, hopped on and galloped off. Think he still had his gun in his hand.

Mary looked at us for an explanation. I just greeted her like it was any other day. She looked at us both and went into the house.

I stepped away from Hank.

I heard Hank uncock his gun. So he had drawn.

“Why’d you do that?” he said.

“You saved my life, seemed only fair I return the favor.”

“He might have shot you.”

“Wasn’t really sure what he was going to do.”

“Not too many friends like you around,” Hank said.

“I thought the same thing that day,” I nodded in the direction Johnny had taken. “Guess you’ll be coming to town a little more often now that there’s nothing to hide from.”

“Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” He opened the door for me. “Come on in for dinner, unless your cooking suddenly got as good as your bravery.”


A Hundred for the Crows pt. 3

Inside the quarry building, Lester found an office housing only two desks and a row of filing cabinets. A pad of blotter paper sat on each desk, along with a pen set and blank name plates. A thick layer of dust covered everything, as if all the workers had simultaneously quit or just disappeared. He heard scuffling toward the back and fought the urge to run. Jacob was a tough bastard when he was younger, and the years in this hellhole could only serve to fortify that, but where Lester’s family was concerned, no amount of caution would be unwarranted. If Hank got the drop on Jacob, if there were more men, Lester didn’t know any of it, so he slinked along the walls, trying to stay to any available shadow.

The first room had its shades drawn, but Lester could see enough through the thin slices that the room was empty. He stood quiet, tried to quell the blood rushing through his ears. The scuffling was further down, at the end of the hallway. He willed his breath away, then crept across the carpet, standing before the door with the bowie knife cocked back.

For years he kept the knife on his person, waiting for his daddy to feel treacherous again and meet the same end as his mother with the same knife. He’d had a hard time reconciling himself with murdering his own kin, but figured once his daddy inflicted himself upon Lester, he’d have no problem swinging the knife. Once he met Marnie, though, once Nathaniel came along, that anger just drifted away like smoke, and the knife became more of a reminder of his mother than a promise of death.

Lester wrapped his fingers around the handle, took a long breath to steel himself, then set his hand on the door and charged in.

Reams of chewed paper sat on the built-in shelves. Two thick rats scurried up the sides, disappearing through a hole in the ceiling. Black pellets and bits of pulp decorated the floor. Lester pressed his fist against his hip, breathing in and out through his nose to let the anger settle. Not like charging through a door hadn’t created enough racket to tip his hand, but he didn’t need to tear shelves from the walls and bring more attention. He spit on the floor and started to turn when he heard the click.

‘You better pull that trigger now, Hank, less I get a chance to turn,’ he said. ‘If I turn, you die.’

He heard a quick exhalation through the nose, a snuffed laugh.

‘I don’t give a fuck about that land, but I will crawl through Hell to protect my family. I’ll keep walking with all your bullets in me until I find them safety. Then I’ll track you down and gut you top-to-toe.’ He cleared his throat. ‘This is your chance.’

‘That land was my birthright.’

‘Your old man lost it. I didn’t even want the damn place.’

‘Well, you got it.’ He dislodged the knife from Lester’s hand then shoved him down the hall. ‘Come see what it got you.’

Lester opened the door with his face and tripped over the molding but managed to stay on his feet until his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he saw Marnie, her face so bruised it melded with the shadows, her shirt ripped and splattered with blood. Nathaniel stood behind her, visibly unharmed but with eyes shining with some animal combination of terror and fury. Maybe it was the same thing. Jacob perched himself on a stool behind them, smoking a cigarette and clicking his bootheels against the wooden legs while spinning the chamber of the revolver in his right hand. Lester started to run to them but held himself steady when Jacob snapped the chamber shut.

‘And so the prodigal brother returns,’ Jacob said.

‘Think you got your Bible stories mixed up.’

He hopped off his stool and flicked the cigarette into the void behind them. It left a red arc in the darkness before disappearing, leading Lester to believe that was the old quarry. ‘You killed them crops and let me take the beatings. You let him gut her like a hog and he gave it all to you anyway.’

‘He didn’t give it to me. You shanghaied me, stuck there with him. Fourteen years, it was just me and him.’

‘That land was my future. That should’ve been my family there.’

‘Wasn’t really our land to begin with, Jacob. Red man was there before Hank’s daddy lost it to ours.’

‘That was my birthright.’

Lester spit on the ground before him. ‘You and Hank watching the same pictures? You seem to have similar gripes with me.’

Hank shoved him with the barrel. ‘Shut your hole, you damn fool.’

Marnie gave out something between a grunt and yelp. Lester told her everything was going to be okay.

‘So what’s your plan, boys? I’m supposed to sign something, give a handshake and you take the place? What?’

Jacob had a little swagger to his step, letting the gun hang loose at his waist. ‘Plan is, I shoot your boy, let Hank here give your wife some maritals then shoot her, then take care of you. That what you’re looking for?’

Lester saw Nathaniel watching the revolver, his fingers flexing. Lester put his hands up and shrugged at Jacob, said, ‘I’d say it sounds like you got it all planned out,’ as Nathaniel lunged at Jacob, snatching the revolver from his hand.

He felt Hank’s            arm wrap around his neck, felt the barrel against his temple. He smelled the whiskey sweating from Hank’s pores.

‘Put it down, boy,’ Jacob said, hands held up to calm the boy. ‘Trust me, you don’t want to watch a parent die.’

‘Then tell him to let him go,’ Nathaniel said.

‘It does things to you,’ Jacob said. ‘Things you can’t undo, things that won’t be dulled by any number of bottles. Things you’ll see when you sleep for the rest of your life.’

‘Then let him go,’ Nathaniel said.

Jacob shook his head. ‘Nothing doing, son. Put it down before he ruins you like your daddy ruined me.’

Marnie tried to speak but the broken teeth shredded her words to unintelligible bits.

Hank let the hammer click back.

‘Toque la tierra,’ Nathaniel said. ‘En tres.’

‘Mijo,’ Lester said.

‘Hazlo!’

Lester took a deep breath, said, ‘Te amo, mijo,’ then let his knees collapse as a shot rang out. Hank grunted and his arm tightened as two more gunshots fired, Lester’s side exploding in bright white this time. He fell to the ground, Hank’s twitching body landing on top of him. The knife clattered on the ground beside him. He stretched out an arm, trying to pull himself free but felt the wound in his side rip open as he moved. Grunts in the darkness just above him. Jacob had his hands wrapped around Nathaniel’s trying to wrestle the gun free. Marnie had her arms wound through Jacob’s and was trying to push him aside. Jacob shoved his leg in front of Nathaniel then pushed him, flipping him over on his back. Jacob dragged a hand across his mouth, wiping away the blood, then stood over Nathaniel with the gun at the end of his arm.

Lester dug his toes into the ground and pushed himself from under the dead man, grabbing the knife and swinging it at Jacob’s thigh. His howl rang out like a coyote’s. Lester stabbed again and stuck the blade in the front of Jacob’s knee before falling back to the ground. Jacob hobbled back, screaming twice more before tottering backwards over the edge of the quarry. His voice echoed for long minutes.

Marnie’s face appeared over Lester’s.

‘I’m sorry it took so long to get back home,’ Lester said. ‘This is my fault.’

‘You damn fool,’ Marnie said, cupping her hands around Lester’s chin. If he hadn’t hung on every word she’d said for the last eight years, he wouldn’t have been able to understand her, teeth broken as they were. ‘Why didn’t you drop like Nathaniel told you to?’

‘Tried. Didn’t do it fast enough.’

‘Help me stand you up.’

NikKorponNik Korpon is the author of STAY GOD, OLD GHOSTS, BY THE NAILS OF THE WARPRIEST and BALTIMORE STORIES: VOLUMES ONE and TWO. His stories have bloodied the pages and screens of Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, 3:AM, Out of the Gutter, Everyday Genius, Speedloader, Warmed&Bound and a bunch more. He is an editor for Dirty Noir and Rotten Leaves, and reviews books for Spinetingler, NoirJournal and The Nervous Breakdown. He also co-hosts LAST SUNDAY, LAST RITES, a monthly reading series. He lives in Baltimore.

‘Can’t,’ Lester said. ‘Get the boy and drive back to town. Get some help.’

‘Dad,’ Nathaniel yelled to him. ‘Dad, he has the keys.’

Lester squinted away a wave of nausea. ‘How deep is it?’

The boy’s silence set Lester’s head spinning.

He touched Marnie’s hand. ‘You two need to run. Now. Fast as you can.’

‘I can’t leave you.’

‘You can’t stay. And I can’t go.’

Marnie opened her mouth to argue but snapped it shut then kissed him hard on the mouth. She called out to her son and they ran.

Lester tipped his head back to watch their silhouettes disappear into the night then trained his eyes on the moon. The stars poked holes in the black sky, the moon casting a silvery highlight on the surrounding rocks. A coyote bayed somewhere in the desert. He closed his eyes to focus his hearing, trying to determine how far away it was. In the silence, he could faintly make out the soft echo of his brother’s voice at the bottom of the quarry. Another coyote answered, this one significantly closer than the first.

‘You wanted to fill daddy’s shoes so bad, didn’t you?’ he called out. ‘Well, you hear that sound, Jacob?’

Jacob said something that was lost to the rocks.

‘Reckon they’ll oblige you.’

The coyote bayed again, closer now.