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Elvis has a brother named Rory. I wasn't crazy about the name, but it grows on you. I got the job of taking Rory to get neutered. You know, neutered, clipped, gelded, taking the ornaments off the tree and its still Christmas. I'm driving him there in this Georgia Pacific cardboard box with yellow nylon rope tied around it with about fifteen wraps because Rory is such a Houdini that he kept pushing the lid off. From the box through the punched air holes came the creepiest catspeak. I swear he was saying why, why, why. Its Elvis' turn next.
I made it to the barn ahead of the snow, my breath busting from my throat. I don't know which made me more tired, the running or the killing. I stack the hay bales to give me a pocket of shelter and crawl inside. Exhausted, numb from the cold, I feel my body warm the straw coffin. Just have to sleep, my toes tingle with half warmth. The fragrance of the hay becomes the smell of wet fur. The bloodhound is licking me awake, harmless to his quarry. Voices. Scared voices, whispering caution. Men rightly scared by what they saw.
A lot of hard talk going around the room. Men crowded in camouflage and long guns. Men who, until minutes ago, had been farmers, hardware sellers, the cook at Terry's Red Bird café. But now they talked themselves into being hunters of a man. Jacking actions, slapping bolts, all the posturing that was to be assumed of men with the serious task at hand. Boxes and boxes of exotic ammunition shown, fondled. The quiet came from the sheriff. He had been in the house. Too late realizing what he was standing in. Retching on the evidence. He had a family.
There is one in every crowd, thought the sheriff. Pointing to the back, "Yeah, Hank, what is it?" All heads swiveled to hear the question. Hank cleared his throat, feeling the pressure now that he had waved his hand after the Sheriff had briefed them. "How do we know that Bernie did it?" A few nodded with him. Sheriff Stillwater turned to the projector, "'He left his autograph," a picture jumped on the screen. Waving at the image he said, "You can see that he wrote it with her entrails…the "B" is out of shape where I stepped on it."
The door of the VFW hall banged open, spilling the daybreak's frosty air over the chilled desire of the Crawford County posse. Boots shuffled and chairs scraped as some men rose, a lady was in the room. Molly Stillwater spoke loud, to the corners of the hall, "All of you said it would be Hell to pay the day Bernie Sheffield didn't give a fuck anymore." She turned to look at them, a finger pointing at the carnage on the screen, the bloody B, "Well, boys, I think that day is here." In her womb, Bernie's baby begged with her.
I apologize to the bloodhound for them making her come out in this nasty weather. I smooth the fur littered with ice crystals, the wet hair becoming shiny as chocolate cake frosting. Her sad, brown eyes express her appreciation for the attention; she even lets me touch her face. Holding her head, it's as big as a mailbox, the flews cold as slices of meat market liver. I whisper in her floppy ear that it is time for her to go. A quick stab to the jugular and I gently roll her in to the straw where she found me.
Opening his mouth to tell the men to saddle up, Sheriff Stillwater was interrupted by radio crackle. "Stillwater", he waited for the reply. "Sheriff", the voice was choked by emotion and vomit, "I found the other half of the Zweibelman and Hotchkiss Law Office." Retching and crying before the transmission stopped. The Sheriff paused, Hotchkiss was the woman. "Where are you, Gary?" Every eye was on the radio. "At the City Park, by the merry-go-round", more sobbing, "Her…private parts are stuffed in his mouth." A scramble as the posse filed up to the Sheriff and dropped badges in his hand.
The radio wouldn't stop the madness, the insanity of Bernie Sheffield's work. "I'm not just talking about the hairy part, Sheriff", Stillwater was trembling, "there is this uterus thing hanging out of his mouth and he is wearing her tits like sunglasses." Molly Stillwater crossed herself. Suddenly, the picture on the screen didn't seem so bad. She couldn't help herself as her eyes inventoried the strewn parts of Kelly Hotchkiss. It was easy to imagine she was missing some organs. Looking closer, she spoke, "He killed Zweibelman first," pointing at the image, "because that's probably his pecker in her mouth."
The men wanted to go bad. They wanted to run scared and hide under a bed, but they felt safer together. None of them wanted to meet Bernie alone. He had something for all of them. Thoughts ran rampant about how they might have pissed him off. Making fun of his braid, smart ass remarks about the tattoo on his face, laughing at him when he was drunk. "Great fun, just a joke Bernie, can't ya take a joke." The ones scared the most, though, were those that had testified against him. Their shit was as soft as mushroom soup.
They all stood there like settlers in circled wagons. The quiet was as thick as the cigarette smoke. Some fired up who hadn't smoked in years. "We've all seen what he does with that knife," the blurt came from Wendell Hook like a cauliflower fart popping in bath water. "Throwed an apple in the air and whipped that knife right through it," Wendell acted out the apple impalement. All remembered that streak of steel from Bernie's hand. Molly said, "I thought he was a chef." Every man looked at her like she was dumber than shit on a new shoe.
"You know what that tells me, gents." All Stillwater was missing was the Texas drawl because he was already holding a hog leg of a pistol in his hand like he was having a shootout at high noon. He opened the loading gate to inspect cartridges the size of beer cans, "That tells me that Bernie is going to make his last tactical error." Grinning from under his brush pile of a moustache, looking over his timorous flock, raising his voice as he spoke, "Bernie's bringing a knife…to a gun fight." They whooped like kids, charged with the charismatic cliché.
"Lester, don't you dare smoke that in here!" Molly hated the smell of cigars. Lester grinned, "Too late," and drew the long yellow flame from an Ohio Blue Tip to the end of a hand rolled Havana. "I'll tell you like I told my wife when she said the cigar was going or she was." Everyone knew this punchline. He blew out a cloud of smoke, "I miss her a little." The real joke was that Lester's "wife" was a gay trucker that left him once he had to start wearing Depends. Lester Hickey liked to smoke the Pink Owl.
"You bunch of butt sucking Boy Scouts take those smokes outside or I'm taking Lucy home." Walt Carter stood up holding a long leather leash that ended in one hundred pounds of purebred bloodhound. Quick with his retort, maybe a little too quick, Lester snapped, "I'll miss her, too." He looked around for laughs, but found few. Walt sidled closer, "Everyone but you, Lester, I hear you need the practice." Lester jumped up in Walt's face, ash flying from the stogie. Growling, Lucy showed more teeth than a baby grand piano to let Lester know that was a bad idea.
Russ had a marketable military skill. He called the quarter pound bombs by the affectionate term "ornaments." The PVC pipe didn't have the shrapnel potential of good old iron pipe, but Russ Christmas made up for it by taping finishing nails to the outside of the pipe. These babies would go through a bullet proof vest like piss through a screen door. Whistling and twisting detonator wires, a guy with a glass eye and missing most of one hand had to make a living somehow. Bernie wanted as many as he could make and he didn't want to disappoint Bernie.
The Russ Christmas bomb factory was the best kept secret in Crawford County. This was because Russ was such a fucking pig that people stayed away from him, especially away from the downwind side. He raised poodle puppies in his mobile home. The puppies seemed to shit in a grid pattern with turds evenly spaced on the living room carpet. Flattened piles were stamped with the tread of his combat boots. The odor was enough to establish a stench perimeter. He left the keys in his ‘86 Ciera. An active cockroach colony held square dances on the sun cracked dashboard.
Being a deputy had its perks. Mike Stoddard had been eating on the gratis for thirteen years and he had the gut to prove it. His service record was marred by one internal investigation when he shot a fleeing suspect. Fortunately, the perp had seventeen sticks of dynamite taped to him and a note saying he was blowing up New York. Mike swore he got a good look at the dynamite and shot in self defense. The reality is that Mike chased the guy for about ten yards then shot him because he thought he was having a heart attack.
The cruiser wheeled through the Hardee's parking lot, fishtailing in the fresh snow. Mike imagined he was impressing the kids that had to open the morning shift. The stoners said he looked like Stimpy, just dumber and fatter. He sat at the drive-up long enough to get pissed. Turning on the lights and siren got no response from the speaker. He spun tires to pull up to the window. Pulling back his coat to show the Glock on his side, he put on his badass cop face. Staring back at him was the three heads of the morning menu crew.
The Stillwater children received crayons and Lincoln Logs for Christmas. Allen Stillwater, Jr. did what he always did when he got bored; he played with his dad's gun. Sneaking up behind his sister, he pointed it at her head as she colored on the living room floor. Turning around, she warned, "Daddy's gonna whip your butt", and jammed a crayon in the end of the barrel. Hearing their father drive up, Junior scurried the Colt back to its holster. This is how Sheriff Stillwater ended up facing Bernie Sheffield with a revolver loaded with Silvertips and a Midnight Blue crayon.
Gerry Michaels kicked the snow off his boots, opened the door to his hardware store. Looking at the parking lot, he saw some kid had been screwing with the advertisement sign again. It had read "Buck Stove, No. 1 in Fullton". It now proclaimed, "Steve, No. 1 Fuck". He hoped "Steve" had left the unused letters close by, maybe under the fresh snow. Gerry didn't let a harmless high school prank upset him. It could have been worse, like the vandalized city population sign coming in to town. Someone had spray painted out the numbers with a big red zero.
Angela Stillwater was swinging her legs at the dining room table, her mind not on the food in front of her. She picked at the carrots, dragging them to be exiled on the edge of her plate. She hated carrots, but not as much as she hated not being able to tell on her brother for playing with Daddy's gun again. Allen had caught her snooping in Mom's diary. You tell on me, I'll tell on you. Those were the rules of sibling warfare. It was a tattler's standoff. Angela bubbled inside knowing Mom did the "big nasty" with Bernie.
"Walt, that hound isn't goin' to be able to track nuthin' in this snow storm." Several agreed with Lewis, "It's a waste of time to even get out in this mess." More agreement, the men were still shaky about getting after Bernie. Walt showed his own teeth in defending Lucy, "Fuck all of you, she can track your daddy's snail trail through a Filipino whore house." Walt was touchy about his bloodhound. Stillwater handed him a denim jacket, "This is the last thing he touched." The bloodhound sniffed deep and headed straight for Molly. The last thing Bernie had touched
Another frantic radio call. The officer at Hardee's was shitting his pants over what he found inside. The blood from the headless bodies made it a skating rink, his sliding boots made reverse brush strokes through the sticky crimson sludge. Sizzling from the back, it smelled surprisingly good. His stomach growled, anticipating the ham and egg Sunrise Croissant. "Anyone back there?" he yelled. Maybe the cook was alive. With pistol drawn, he did a quick peek around the corner at the grill and dry heaved across the counter. Judge Watson's fat white ass was frying like a macabre sausage patty.
"Stoddard", the Sheriff commanded through the radio, "get a hold of yourself." The sounds from the officer could have been a baby crying. "Stoddard," he repeated, "How many dead?" The posse was already doing the math and the total doubled by their estimate. Stoddard was more clear when he spoke, "Four…yeah four." A short pause, "Four…counting Judge Watson." Lester choked on cigar smoke. The Sheriff waved for silence, "How do you know it's the Judge," Stillwater wanted an answer. He didn't like it when it came, "That would be because his gavel is sticking out of his ass." Shish kebab.
Molly pushed the hound's nose away from her crotch and smoothed the front of her long dress. Walt tugged on the leash, "Down, girl." He apologized to the Sheriff's wife, "She gets that from her Pa, had some of the river bottom leghound in him." Stillwater commanded the group, "Grab your guns and badges, boys, this murder just turned federal." "Walt", he said, "get Lucy on his trail and we'll follow you on the horses." Molly tucked a loose strand of auburn hair behind her ear and thought that dog will make a stop at half the women in Fulton.
Walt ventured closer to the barn. Lucy had struck out at a dead run on Bernie's trail. This was a bad sign. The others were whooping it up like it was almost over, that Bernie was cornered. Walt knew that when Lucy hit a trail that hot and straight that it meant one thing. Bernie wasn't trying to hide. No zigzag, no fence walking, no creek jumping, just straight as an arrow for the big barn on the old Martin property. Walt wanted to call out to the hound. The sound from the barn became clearer, it was someone singing.
"Whoa, Black Betty, bam ba lam…whoa Black Betty Bam ba Lam. Black Betty had a child Bam ba Lam…Damn thing went WILD, BAM BA LAM." Walt shivered at the sound of Bernie singing in a rambling, up and down chorus from inside the barn. He backed up to the tree line and radioed Sheriff Stillwater. "Bernie's in the barn at the Martin place." Stillwater came back excited, "Can you take a peek in there, see what he's doing?" Walt snuck back, real quiet like, and peered through the boards. Smiling, singing, Bernie was peeling the hide off of the bloodhound.
"Walt." A statement, not a question. Walt was afraid to move. "I can see your breath through the cracks, Walt." The white condensation vapor stopped for a minute. When it resumed, Bernie spoke again. "You can hate me for your dog, Walt, but I needed to send a message." The death and mutilation of Lucy infuriated Walt past his fear of the killer. "You sick sonovabitch." The mist billowed through the boards. Bernie ignored the outburst, "You tell Stillwater that I'm going to skin him like I did your dog…but I'm going to do it while he is still alive."
Tomorrow was going to be a busy day for Honaker Funeral Home. The mortician was going to be embalming, draining, and measuring corpses. Sewing severed parts back on, stuffing organs in cavities, not giving any acknowledgement to the previous anatomical functions. Just get all the pieces held in with canvas stitches. He wasn't in the posse hunting Bernie Sheffield and nobody asked him to join. Jules Honaker had been in the business for forty years; it was the unwritten rule that someone had to be left to bury the dead. He hoped the Sheriff wanted a casket instead of cremation.
Surrounded is a relative term. So when Stillwater announced to the cold, gray barn that it was surrounded, he speculated what effect it would have on the man inside. Through the crisp, winter air came the unexpected reply, "I give up." Growing balls at this turn of events, Stillwater nodded at the men, "I'm going in." The weathered wooden door creaked on hundred year hinges. Bernie was standing, facing the door. The hound's hide was draped over him. Trying to sound official, Stillwater said, "I'm taking you in for the murder of…" Bernie finished it, "I'm not done murdering, Sheriff.'
"You're not shit for sheriffing, Allen…how good are you at chemistry?" Bernie reached in the straw and pulled out a length of cannon fuse. "Mr. Martin stores his ammonia nitrate fertilizer in this barn and I've been draining the diesel fuel from the storage tank on it all night." Stillwater aimed the revolver, "Light it and I'll blow a window in your skull." Rage backlit the tribal tattoo on Bernie's face. Then it softened to a smile, then a laugh as he put the flame to the fuse. The end of the barrel was as blue as Molly Stillwater's eyes.
The world turned in to a flash of brilliant colors. Midnight blue was the last thing Bernie saw as the three hundred grain slug tried to achieve maximum velocity through the jammed pistol barrel. The green cannon fuse had become a dancing red headed snake whizzing across the barn, aggravated by the yellow flame. Stillwater saw Bernie's laughing visage framed in a glowing red and orange ANFO fireball. The posse became pink snow when the hundreds of pipe bombs hidden around the foundation of the barn popped like a string of demon's firecrackers. Jules Honaker saw gold in the dead.
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