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.
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.’
Nik 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.