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Sam Brown

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Art by Sean O'Keefe 2016

Blood of the Covenant

Sam Brown

Eddie could see the current swimming electric behind the kid’s eyes, and he knew why Vance had sent this one.  The cringe screaming through his guts like that, he’d be able to dig through a limestone shelf with a garden trowel if you needed him to.  Wouldn’t have to give him much for his trouble, either.  Probably a shard or two, just enough to keep him neon for the time it took him to swipe some copper off a job site or pawn some of his mom’s jewelry.  Then he’d be back, knocking on the door with the cash, like, You holding any of that blue?

“They got you all lit up before sending you over here, huh,” Eddie said.

“What’s it to you?” the kid asked, to which Eddie held up a palm in surrender.

“Hey,” he said.  “I’m not here to judge.”  Which was true.  Eddie couldn’t care any less what people did.  All told, though, he was nervous enough out here.  He didn’t much appreciate Vance sending him a kid with his pump on.

For his part, Eddie had only tried crystal once, way back when Vance was trying to train him on being a bagman.  It made him feel like there was a star burning in his heart, spraying hot white light out through his veins.  For half a day, he was the god of some luminous, exultant universe.

But even a few hours after he came crashing back down through the stratosphere, Jamie Louise could smell it on him, that raw, chemical smell that scrapes at the back of your throat.  There were no terms left uncertain when she let him know that if he wanted to be around to see his daughter being born, or anytime thereafter, his methamphetamine use would be a one-time thing.  And while he was at it, she informed him, he might as well preemptively suggest Vance fix any future employment opportunities firmly in his ass.

Which was just as well. A lot of the guys Vance brought along in the world didn’t seem to waste much time sloughing off any flesh or sinew trying to cling to their bones.  You could see them skittering through the shadows around town, rotting, skeletal-looking things with wild eyes and scabby, melon-shaped heads.

The kid standing now in the corner of the glow from Eddie’s work lamp seemed pretty new to the life. There was still some cord to his arms, a little meat left on his bare sides, trying to spill over the waistband of his camo cutoffs.

“You ready?” Eddie asked.

The kid screwed his mouth into a frown and flexed an eyebrow, like, I’m here, ain’t I?  He took the shovel but refused the gloves with a tic of the head.  Eddie almost held up his hand to show what a few hours working a shovel can do to a palm.  The kid would figure it out soon enough, though, if he could even feel his extremities at this point.

Eddie studied the rectangle he’d just finished carving into the flesh of the earth when the kid had shown up.  The soil was almost black from yesterday’s rain, which meant soft digging for at least a few feet.   It’d also be easier for the roots to take when they were done refilling the hole and he quilted the plot with the sod he’d peeled like skin off the face of the ground.  Unless somebody paid some pretty intense attention to this particular gravesite at some point in the next few days, nobody’d ever be the wiser about what happened tonight.

“He’ll be just off the right side of the vault,” Eddie said, “which’ll end right around here.”  He cleaved the air over where the grass ended with an open hand, his fingers pointing a few feet clear of the shoulder of the headstone.  “So start all the way over there at that edge and work this way, so you’ll have room to move around down in there when we get a little deeper.”

“You gonna help?”

“I just put the people in there,” Eddie said.  “I don’t pull anybody back out.  That’s why you’re here.  I only came out to run interference if somebody comes snooping around. That and supply you with the equipment.”

“I seen an earthmover in here before.  You gonna supply me with that?”

“Too loud.  What we’re doing here ain’t exactly smiled upon. Don’t wanna draw a lot of attention.”

“You mean what I’m doing here. Apparently, you ain’t doing shit.”

Eddie tried to force a smile, but it couldn’t fight its way to the surface of his face. “Sure, kid,” he said.

He looked up to where the tree line collared the graveyard, then back over his shoulder at the unkempt county road that cut through the empty night. He snorted out a noiseless laugh at the absurdity of his situation, supervising some bottom-rung teenage speed freak on what basically amounted to grave robbery.  This wasn’t what he signed up for. Not exactly, anyway.

But looking back, he could see how he’d gotten here. If there was one thing he knew Vance to be truly great at, it was sniffing out desperation and exploiting it.  And Eddie had been one desperate man.

After Bethany was born and Jamie Louise couldn’t get back working, he couldn’t see how they were gonna make a go of it. Even after he hired on at the town, it kept him up most nights. It didn’t take a math genius to figure out how small of a dent a graveyard groundskeeper’s salary put in the debt he was building up just trying to keep his kid in diapers. He wondered if people still starved to death in America.

So when Vance told him about his idea for this new thing, Eddie didn’t even stop to think before jumping in. Jamie Louise would have his balls if she found out he was into this kind of thing, especially with Vance. But he’d rather sleep on the couch until she got over it than have to try to find a warm, dry spot in the gutter to curl up in when they couldn’t make rent.

And relative to just about anything else Vance had a hand in, this seemed like some low risk, low profile stuff. On funeral days, Eddie was already in the habit of doing most of his work in the afternoon. People didn’t much care for trying to give a eulogy over the grievous bleat of a weed eater. And they didn’t seem to appreciate some sweaty stranger in coveralls backfilling dirt onto the dearly departed while the bereaved were still standing around, hugging and crying and trying to figure out what to do about lunch.

He’d wait for the crowd to thin out before he set up his sawhorses and run the caution tape around the fresh grave. Then he’d get his mowing done, usually getting back to the grave about the time dusk was smearing purple across the sky.  The only difference, now that he had this thing worked out with Vance, was that he was a little more leisurely with the landscaping when he got the call. That way, he wouldn’t have to wait around, all bored and anxious, for Vance’s boys to show up after dark with the extra body that needed to disappear.

They’d pull up, pop the trunk, scoop the poor guy out, and heave him into the hole, right between the casket and the wall. Then they’d drive off, and Eddie’d fill it in, starting with the backhoe and touching up with the shovel, just like he did with all the normal graves, the ones with just the one body inside. It was simple.

Until it wasn’t.

When Eddie’d gotten the call yesterday, the voice on the other end had told him Vance needed a body dug back up.  Evidently, the last guy Eddie’d allowed to encroach on the eternal resting place of another had something on his person that Vance needed. And when Vance needed something, it didn’t make a damn bit of nevermind to him whether you had to do something immoral, illegal, or impossible to get it. He was gonna have it.

According to the caller, the poor soul responsible for letting this happen had been dealt with. Eddie figured that meant the grave he had to dig for the Lacy funeral on Saturday would be used for more than just Mr. lacy. Tonight, though, was about pulling somebody back out of the ground and relieving him of whatever he was holding that wasn’t his.

“So what exactly are we looking for?” Eddie asked the kid. “I mean, what’s this guy got on him that Vance needs?”

The kid quit digging for just long enough to shrug, then he got back to business.

“So I guess we’re supposed to just know it when we see it.” Eddie wiped at his face, thinking, If I’m out here all night so this kid can dig a teener out of a dead guy’s pocket to save Vance a couple hundred bucks, I’m gonna be pissed.

He looked at his watch and sighed. They might be here until close to dawn, and it wasn’t completely unheard of for somebody to roll through here in the wee hours. Eddie had no idea how he’d explain this one to somebody who wondered what was going on.

“You got a name?” he asked, trying to take his mind off of just how railed he’d be if the wrong bored person came nosing around at any time over the next few hours.

The kid stopped digging but didn’t look up.  He just quit moving for a second, like he was debating with himself on whether or not to disclose the information.  “Jason,” he finally said, then got back to the matter at hand.

Eddie nodded.  “You do much work for Vance, Jason?”

“Little bit,” the kid said, still shoveling.

“Myself, I usually try to keep everything above board.  Legal, you know.  But I got a kid, now, and that Gerber shit ain’t priced for the working class.”

The kid cracked his back and wiped his forearm across his brow ridge.  He didn’t say anything, and Eddie didn’t mind that.  He’d just been prattling on to keep his nerves in check.

“I’ve been doing this thing for Vance for a couple years now.  Haven’t had a lick of trouble, either.  Well, unless you count this little hiccup.”

Something rustled over in the trees, and Eddie snapped his head up to search for movement.  He got the empty, nervous feeling he always got when something startled him while he was burying an extra body for Vance. All logic told him it was a squirrel or a raccoon over in the trees, or maybe even a skunk. But he still felt like there was static crackling in his bones.

“Jesus,” he said, spreading a hand out over his heart.  “I always hear shit in the trees over there and think somebody’s watching me.”

Jason stabbed the head of the shovel into the dirt. He wiped his hands on his shorts and looked around him, checking his progress. He was almost waist deep.

“But it’s like eight or ten acres of solid woods right there,” Eddie said, his eyes still fixed on the trees. There’s a horse farm on the other side. Old retired cop, I think. He probably don’t spend a lot of time wondering around in there. Got a couple grandsons, though. Those little shits are probably in there all the time when they’re around. Which is most of the time, far as I can tell. Actually, I think their dad works for Vance, which explains why they’re always with grandpa. I’ve seen him around. Can’t place him though.” 

Eddie was talking more to himself than the kid at this point. He knew he was babbling, but hell, it passed the time. He drifted off and got to thinking about how funny it was that a lot of cops had kids who ended up working for Vance. It didn’t really matter, he guessed, what kind of family you came from. If you live to catch a rush, your daddy’s whoever can get you there. At that point, the man whose blood you got swishing around in you, who raised you and taught you how to fight and shave and all that, he doesn’t mean anything. He figured it must be true what they say about the blood of the covenant being stronger than the water of the womb.  And the relationship between a tweaker and the ringleader of the local meth circus?  That’s a hell of a covenant.

Jason dug the heel of his hand into the ground to study himself then leveraged his way out of the hole. “Jason Wilkins,” he said, riding himself.

“What?” Eddie said, cutting his eyes to the kid.

“You said you can’t place those little boys’ dad. His name’s Jason Wilkins.”

“Oh,” Eddie said, “you know him?” Then he realized the implications of the kid being out of the hole, standing about four feet away. He redirected his line of questioning. “You taking a break or something?”

“It’s deep enough.”

“That’s only like three or four feet,” Eddie said. “We won’t see that body for a good little bit.” Then what the kid had said started to register. “So the guy’s name is Jason. Same as you. That make you Jason Jr.?”

The kid nodded.

Eddie closed his eyes and started to add it up in his head. “So that’s your grandfather’s farm over there. And the boys are your little brothers?”

“Half brothers. And you’re right. Them little shits are always out in the woods.”

“And they saw me disappearing a body out here.” Eddie wasn’t sure how all the pieces fit yet, but he knew he’d have to accept however they did.

“Yeah,” Jason said. “They told my dad. He asked the both of them if they said anything to grandpa, and they said they did.”

Eddie threw his head back like the realization had caught him up under the chin. “And since grandpa’s retired police, Vance thinks he’ll talk to his buddies down at the station. And maybe they’ll come out here and snoop around. And if they find anything, they’ll bust my balls until I crack and roll on Vance.”

Jason didn’t indicate one way or another whether Eddie was right. But it didn’t matter if he was or not. The kid had fished a box cutter out of his pocket, and he was thumbing the blade out.

“Jason,” Eddie said, “listen to me. It doesn’t gotta be this way.”

The kid frowned. His bottom lip tremored a little at the thought of what he was about to do.

“Jesus, kid. I got a daughter. Here, I’ll show you.” He stuck two fingers into his back pocket to dig for his wallet.

“Don’t,” Jason said.

For a second, Eddie thought about running. But even if he could outrun the kid, he had no idea where he’d go. He’d just be delaying the inevitable. And forcing Vance to waste his energy sending someone out to track him down would assuredly earn Eddie a slow and painful death.

He nodded toward the box cutter. “You couldn’t do this with a gun or something?”

“Too loud,” the kid said. “What we’re doing here ain’t exactly smiled upon, remember? Don’t wanna draw too much attention.”

“Alright, then,” Eddie said, “get on with it. But don’t start shoveling the dirt back in ‘til after I bleed out. I’m claustrophobic.”

Sam Brown tends bar in rural Indiana. So far, that’s all we know…

In Association with Fossil Publications