I was just remembering
what it used to be like,
making love to Vickie. I don’t know what it was, but she would really get into
it. She loved it when I used to eat her pussy and then when we got into the
actual fucking, she would get her ankles clear up on my shoulders and reach
back and grab the headboard so I could get in deeper. She liked to yell when
she came, too.
And now, here
she was, sitting across from me
in the booth at the Doo-Dah Diner in downtown Wichita. Even though she’d been
dead for eleven years. And I’d have to say, she looked really good. Hadn’t aged
To say I was
a little disconcerted would be an
understatement, and when she just suddenly appeared and sashayed her fine ass
over to the booth and plopped down, it was a bit scary.
like I’d heard rumors of her death or
anything. Actually, I’d killed her, and her body was still hidden out in a
field in Kingman County.
how the fuck are ya?” Her eyes were
aglitter with a combination of malice and glee that seemed somehow—well, unholy
was the only term that really filled the bill. But I wasn’t about to back
off from her. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. . . .
great, Vickie. Looks like you’re doing
well. . . .”
for being, like, dead?” Her
smile widened and she batted her long eyelashes at me.
well, now that you bring it up, yeah,
you look great for a deceased person.”
person. Don’t you mean fucking
Vickie, how is this possible? I mean,
I never believed in life after death, and all that bullshit. I didn’t think you
manifesting, Chuck. Spirits do it all the
time. You mortals just don’t realize you’re seeing dead people, because we look
just like we did when we were alive. Before some cocksucker murdered
saying after you cross over, you
can just come back whenever you like?”
after you’re murdered, you
have to build up energy and you have to learn how it’s done. Some people never
get the hang of it. Some, like me, get it real early and can spend hours on
this side. I’m getting stronger all the time.” She demonstrated by picking up
my steak knife and cutting the back of my hand with a quick swipe before I
could move it away. She gave a cute little giggle that ended in a snort.
Something else she used to do when we were playing in bed. . . .
Goddamn, Vickie, that hurt. . . .”
Don’t you think it hurt when you
smacked me in the head with a claw hammer, you fuck?”
was still upset about the fact
that I’d killed her. Then she spoke again.
what I really miss, though, Chuck? I
miss sex. I used to really like getting my brains humped out, even when we were
mad at each other, the sex was always good.”
it was.” I was playing to her now, as I
stanched my bleeding with a couple napkins. “I miss that, too, Vick.” I had
always called her Vick, especially in the throes of passion. At the same
time, I was beginning to wonder if everyone else in the restaurant could see
her. Because nobody seemed bothered and if they had seen me having a
conversation with empty air, they surely would have been.
. . . manifest?”
everybody see you?”
if I want them to.”
you don’t want them to?”
be all the way from visible and solid to
a mere shadow, to completely invisible. Like I said, I’m getting really good at
it. I gotta hit the can. . . .”
She got up from
the table and hiked her cute
little ass back to the restrooms and I finished my coffee. I had lost my
appetite for the rest of my breakfast. I waited a while and then it began to
dawn on me that she wasn’t coming back. Well, yeah, dumbass. Why would a
fucking ghost have to go pee?
I got up from
my table and walked back to the
restrooms and, as a lady came out, I asked, “Is there anyone else in there?”
She looked at
me suspiciously and then said,
“No, why? You the janitor?”
I walked away.
Went and paid my tab and left.
Headed back to my house, roaring down Kellogg in my pickup with the rest of the
traffic. Made it about three miles, when I felt the steering wheel start to
pull to the right. As I wrestled for control, a pair of disembodied hands
appeared on the wheel, hands with lacquered nails, bright red. Vickie’s hands.
We fought for control for about fifteen seconds, then she let go and I heard
that giggle again. The one with the snort at the end. Under my breath I
muttered, “Crazy bitch. . . .”
And she said,
“Sure am . . . fucker. . . .”
see or hear from Vickie for almost a
month. And I got to wondering about things. When I killed her, I’d set it up
carefully. No killing in the house. I didn’t want evidence there. No killing in
the car, either. Same reason. Plus, I really didn’t want to have to transport a
body any distance. Too many ways to screw it up. But Vickie had always been
kinky and one evening, I’d suggested, just for a change of pace, that we go out
in the country and find a place to park and do the nasty. At first, she just
laughed it off. Then, two hours later, she suddenly wanted to go out and “do
it” somewhere. We put a couple blankets in the truck and took off.
There was a pipeline
being built nineteen miles
west of town. It would eventually carry crude oil from area wells all the way
to Texas. I meandered around out in the country, finding and rejecting one
place after another until we came to the place where the pipeline was going
through. There were tractors and backhoes all over the place and, at night,
nobody around. Union hours and rules, apparently. I pulled the truck out into
the field and parked it where it was hidden from the road, and we got out with
We had a final
lovemaking session there in the
dark, right beside the pipeline trench and when we’d finished, I stepped to the
truck to get cigarettes and the hammer. As she smoked, sitting naked in the
dark on an old Army blanket, I caught her a good one, square on top of the head
with the claw end of the hammer.
never made a sound. Her breathing stopped and I rolled her and her clothes and
purse up in the blanket and dumped her into the trench right beside the
pipeline. The pipe itself had been welded another hundred yards past where we
were, and the trench was being filled in when quitting time came. The workmen
just shut everything off and left for the day.
I knew how to
run a backhoe and it was a matter
of ten minute’s work to fill in another ten feet of trench. Just enough to
cover my girlfriend. The girlfriend who had become bossy, and nasty, and
demanding, and no longer fun, except when we were screwing. Ten minutes after I
shut off the backhoe, I was back to the nearest highway and headed home.
Now I wondered
just what the dump site might
look like. Was there any chance someone was going to find her? What if she
manifested to some cop and told her story? I was pretty sure I was fucked, but
I wasn’t going down without a fight. And I damn sure couldn’t kill Vickie again.
. . .
I drove back out to where
Vickie was buried. I sighed with relief when I saw it was now 160 acres of
wheat, ripening and waving in the sunshine and the light Kansas breeze. Well,
so much for that. I figured I could stop worrying, at least about someone
digging her up.
Three days later,
when I went out to get the
morning paper, there was a story blasted all over the front page. Below the
fold were pictures. Pictures of equipment out there digging up the field. Fuck.
I figured Vickie must have spilled to the cops after all. Then I read the story
all the way through and on page nine, after the jump, there was a picture taken
by a pilot on climb-out from Eisenhower National Airport. It showed an aerial
view of the wheatfield. The wheat had been mashed down into big letters that
read: DEAD BODY HERE! It was as clear as those crop circles they’re always
finding in England and the tip of the arrow was right on the slight
indentation, still visible, where the pipeline was buried.
I knew with modern
DNA techniques, it would be
only a matter of days before the cops would be knocking on my door. I jumped up
and went to find my passport and pack my shit.
I stuffed clothes
into bags and loaded the
pickup. Found my passport and headed down to the branch bank to get cash. I had
to use the drive-up because of the god-damned Covid and when I hit the button,
the voice sounded very familiar. And there, in the little video screen, the
teller was Vickie. I was stunned. But then I played it cool and said, “I . . . I
need a withdrawal slip, please. . . .”
Gonna take off, are we? Ya know it won’t
do any good, right?”
okay Vick, whatever you say. . . .”
I sent in the
withdrawal slip, just about
emptying out my savings account. Playing the role, she asked, “How would you
like that, large bills?”
. . .” Fuck. I was so screwed,
and I knew it, but I had to try.
Ten minutes later,
I was headed south toward
the Mexican border. The closest place I could cross would be Brownsville,
Texas. Halfway across Oklahoma, Vickie started manifesting right there in the
truck. She would show up, just popping into existence there in the right-hand
seat, telling me I was wasting my time.
Every time she
manifested, she was wearing less
clothing. First, it was a very brief sundress she used to wear that just about
drove me nuts. It had no back at all, and barely covered her ass, the skirt
being short and frilly, and she always wore it with thick, cork-soled shoes
that showed off her legs to great advantage.
By the time I’d
made the Texas border, she was
manifesting in panties and her bra, and I have to admit, she looked damn good.
Only trouble was, she smelled like a grave . . . it was turning me on and at
the same time, giving me the creeps. . . .
as well slow down and look for a
place to park, Chuck. You know we’re gonna knock one out here, pretty soon,
what she used to call it, whenever we
went for a quickie somewhere, “knocking one out.”
think so, Vick. I’m sorry, but I’m not
fucking a ghost and besides, you smell like grave dirt. . . .”
She turned a
bit to her left and casually
draped a long, pretty leg over mine and the grave-smell went away. Now she
smelled like some perfume she used to use. It was called ‘Poison.’ She pointed
off to the right, where a big oil pump was cranking away, and said, “How about
right over there?”
I slowed the
truck and pulled in and drove back
on the narrow gravel road, parking behind the oil tanks. I shoved my seat all
the way back and her panties and bra magically disappeared. Neat trick. She
didn’t even have to take them off. She undid my pants, and in seconds she was
straddling me, and we were definitely knocking one out.
the weird part. It was better than
ever. It seemed like she had learned a few things and she kept me right on the
edge for a good twenty minutes before she let me come. And when it was over,
she disappeared and I had a big come-stain on my jeans, like she’d never been
there at all. She didn’t manifest again until I got to the border station at
Brownsville. Then it all came apart. . . .
I rolled up to
the gate, half expecting
trouble, and sure enough, I got it. Vickie was right there, in the uniform of
the Mexican Federales. Backed up by about five or six more, all males
and all with an attitude.
da truck please, Senor!”
It was not a
request. The tone of voice made it
an order. This was from the second-biggest dickhead of the bunch. I immediately
named him Fat Bastard in my head. Vickie looked on, amused. Every one of them
was armed, some with American-made AR 15s, some with H&K MP5s. They all
looked like they could hardly wait to shoot someone.
hands on da fender, Sir . . .”
They patted me
down, then took me into an
office that smelled of piss, and vomit, and Lysol.
been in there a few minutes, Vickie
came in. Didn’t bother to open the door, just walked through the wall and there
she was. “Told ya it was a waste of time. Gasoline, too. You need to
understand, you can’t go anywhere and get away from me. Not until I’m through
with you. And I’ll never be through with you, Chuck.”
my money, my pickup, and they
also found the only gun I had in the truck. That right there was enough to get
me thrown in a Mexican jail and held for Los Americanos.
The trip back
to Kansas came four days later
and I saw nothing of Vickie. I was stuck on a rattling, creaky old bus operated
by the U.S Marshall’s Service and they do not fuck around. I was shackled and
guarded with a shotgun all the way.
I was held in
the Sedgwick County jail in
Wichita, in lieu of one million dollars bond. I was considered a flight risk,
you see. It took five months before my trial date came up and by that time, I
figured I might as well just plead guilty and get started on my sentence. During
those five months, Vickie never once came to see me. I think she was building
up power. When I was taken to court, guess who was there?
Yup. She was
right there in the courtroom in a
Sheriff’s uniform, being a court guard. The whole deal took about twenty
minutes. The judge, because of my cooperation and my plea, gave me thirty-five
to life, with parole eligibility at fourteen years. Such a deal . . . and all
the while, Vickie was smirking at me from over by the holding cell door. I
might as well have married her. No divorce now, though. Sorry, that ship has
Now, I’m not that far from
home. I’m in Super-Max at El Dorado, Kansas. I see Vickie just about every day.
She manifests as a prison guard now just to torment me, and once in a while,
when she shows up on night shift, she’ll walk through the bars and into my cell
and give me a little . . . if I’m especially good . . . I can feel myself aging
every day, my life slowly slipping away, but Vickie still looks just the same,
young and pretty as ever. . . .
The Lunch Box
Kenneth James Crist
name is Kerry Howland. My friends all call me Crank.
I’m a retired cop and I do all the shit most retirees do, play a little golf, ride
my motorcycle. And I have a hobby most guys don’t have. I kill fuckers who really
need to be dead. How do I get away with that, you ask? Who better than a former homicide
detective to be able to commit murders and slip quietly away? I do what the cops can’t
and I get away with it every time. Well, so far…
I think the first
time I ever wanted to kill someone was when I was eight years old. I was always a nerdy
little fucker, and that meant that there was always a certain element of kids that delighted
in picking on me. Not the really big kids that were at the top of the pecking order. They
seldom even acknowledged the fact that I existed, and that was fine by me. Besides, I offered
no challenge to them, and because I was so small and so pitiful, they could actually make
themselves look bad by fucking with me.
But there was always
a certain group of low-life little pricks that couldn't pass up the chance to make my life
miserable. Like I said before, I was a farm kid, and in those days, that meant poor. Don't
get me wrong, we always ate good, and our clothes were clean, even though they were patched,
and probably hand-me-downs as well, but we didn't have a lot of money. What that usually
meant was that the town kids had the shiny new bikes and the latest fad toys (remember
hula hoops?) and I was lucky to get enough money at Christmas to buy a model kit.
was eight years old, in fact on my eighth birthday, my Grandfather bought
me a new bicycle. It was a Wards 24-inch "Hawthorne", and it was beautiful. It
had maroon paint and cream-colored pinstriping, and boy was I proud of that
machine. I guess I'd had it about a week, and I'd gotten pretty good with it,
when I took it to town for the first time.
parked it in front of the little five and dime store
and went in to browse through the comic book collection. In those days a dime would buy
a comic book, and I had quite a few at home, dog-eared and tattered from constant reading.
I was perusing the current Batman, when I glanced up through the grimy glass of the
front window, and saw Bobby Hammond leaving on my bike.
I was momentarily frozen in place. I had never before
been the victim of a crime, other than getting beat up and intimidated, but this was THEFT.
Then I was out the door as fast as my short, skinny legs could carry me, and I found myself
running after Bobby and screaming, “Stop! Stop, you bastard!”
He did slow down some, but only so he could again speed up and stay
just out of reach while he teased me along.
stop, you little…little FUCK!” I screamed and yelled and raised hell for quite
a while, I suppose. Today, it’s all a blur, but back then it was very real.
I must have chased
that asshole for half an hour, until he tired of the game. By this time, I was threatening
to call the law on his ass, and I don't think he really thought I would do it, as much
as he just got tired of listening to my shit. Bobby was a blonde-headed bully of a town
kid, and this wasn't the first time he'd picked on me. In fact, he usually made a habit
of grabbing my hat, or going through my lunchbox almost every day. If there was a juicy
mud puddle on the playground, there would be ol' Bobby, pushing smaller kids into it, and
laughing at them when they cried.
the place we were at by that time was the RAVINE. Most
every kid in town was forbidden to go there, especially around or on the railroad trestle
that crossed it. But, like I say, Bobby was an asshole, and as such he couldn't be
forbidden to go anywhere. He took the bike and just hiked his ass right out to
the middle of that ol' train trestle, and there he stood, glaring at me.
get yer precious widdle bike, ya mouthy asshole! Or are ya chicken?”
stood around for a few minutes, trying to get up the nerve to go out
there. I had heard tales of kids getting caught out on the trestle by a fast freight, and
having to hang by their hands from the timbers over a forty-foot drop while the
train rumbled overhead shaking the shit out of everything and trying to
dislodge their grip. I'm quite certain now that all of those tales were bullshit,
pure and simple, but back then they were gospel.
I heard the whistle. We still had steam trains back
then, big beautiful black monsters, that chuffed and smoked and gave off thrilling smells
of steam, coal, and hot oil, and there's just nothing like a steam whistle to give you
chills and put the wind up your ass if you're near the crossing. Bobby heard it, too. And
that was when he did the unforgivable. He grinned at me, and tossed my prized
possession, my beautiful new bike, which had been given me by the only strong
father figure in my life, over the side and into the ravine. Then he turned and
ran for the other end of the trestle. He knew he was safe. For one thing, the
train was coming from my side, and besides, he knew I wouldn't go out on that bridge,
even if there was never going to be another train until Gabriel blew his horn.
I climbed down into the ravine that afternoon and rescued
my bike. I had a hell of a time getting it out, too. When I reached the bottom and found
it, there was a lump in my throat, made up of rage, as I took in the damage. He had dropped
it right in the middle, where the little stream bed ran, and that stream bed was full of
rocks. Now my prized possession was scratched and dented, the seat torn, and
the handlebars twisted. I sat and cried for a while, then drug it out of the
ravine and walked it home. I repaired most of the damage myself, but some of
the scars it carried for the rest of its days. And on that day, I vowed to kill Bobby
not an idle threat, or a passing fancy. This was an assassination plot
that would be carried out at the end of the summer when school took up again. I would have
a surprise for that bullying, bike-wrecking asshole.
I thought really hard about the best way to kill that
little fucker. Remember now, I was eight years old. I thought of putting snakes in his
bed, and shooting him with any gun I could get my hands on, but I wouldn't get my own first
gun for another two years, and along with it I got some healthy lessons on firearms
thought up and rejected plan after plan, and then one
fine summer day I was roused out of my daydreaming by the sound of an explosion. It had
come from our neighbor's apple orchard, a half-mile away, and it had been a resounding
bang. The neighbor was blasting out some old tree stumps, and I was not the only kid who
showed up to watch, but I was the one most under foot that day, and the only
one with murder on his mind.
remember the smell of the shattered wood on that day. It had a sickly-sweet aroma that
I'd never smelled before, and I asked the man what it was.
He took his time
answering me. He stopped what he was doing, pulled out a big red handkerchief, and blew
his nose. He examined the result with some satisfaction, then he hawked and spat on the
ground and said, "That's dynamite, little Kerry. Powerful goddamn stuff. Blow a man's head
right off. Pretty safe though, if ya know how ta use it."
I proceeded to watch and learn. While the other kids
were yelling and running around and making mouth noises approximating explosions, I learned
how to set dynamite. I learned about blasting caps and how dangerous they were. I learned
how to bore underneath a stump and pack charges, and how to "telephone" the
dynamite when you were ready for it to blow. That's what the neighbor called
it, because he used an old hand-crank generator out of a telephone to set off
his charges. I spent all day at the neighbor's, and part of the next, too, and when
the blasting was all done, I watched to see where he put the dynamite and blasting caps.
Out on the farm in
those days, nobody locked anything up. If they locked up their barn or tool shed, or even
their house, it might inconvenience a neighbor who badly needed to borrow something. Life
on the farm was tough enough without causing each other any inconvenience. So it wasn't
very difficult to sneak into the neighbor's tool shed and take one stick of dynamite and
one blasting cap. And I wouldn't need a phone generator to set it off. The neighbor had
told me that any amount of electricity would set off a blasting cap, and even told me it
was best to always keep the wires on the cap twisted together until just before the
charge was set, because the wires could act as an antenna, and radio waves
could generate enough juice to set it off. So I figured a couple of flashlight
batteries would suffice. I hid the dynamite and blasting cap, and kept it hidden
until the last week before school took up at the end of summer, then I built my device.
The simplest designs are the ones that usually work
best, and this was simplicity itself. I put the thing together in about twenty minutes.
All it amounted to was two batteries, some wire, a spring-type clothespin, a piece of plastic
from a model kit, a piece of string, two pennies and, of course, the dynamite and blasting
cap. The whole thing was built onto a board, and glued inside my lunchbox. The
string ran from inside the lid and was tied to the piece of plastic. The
plastic, of course, was to keep the two pennies from touching each other. The
pennies were glued into the jaws of the clothespin, and had wires soldered to them,
one wire attached to the blasting cap and one to the batteries. The other wire from the
blasting cap went to the other end of the battery pack. Simple. Open the lid just a little,
and you could unhook the string and have lunch. Open it too far and the string pulls the
piece of plastic out from between the two pennies, and it eats your lunch.
The next time Bobby took my lunchbox would be the last theft he would ever commit. I don't
think I even thought about the consequences of my actions at all. I only had one goal in
mind. Paybacks, as they say, are a motherfucker.
I rode the bus to
school on that first day after Labor Day all primed to kill Bobby Cannon. At last, I would
get my revenge on that bullying prick. I never gave any thought at all to collateral damage.
My only excuse is that I had just turned nine years old and had not learned everything
I needed to know about human values.
We didn’t use
lockers in elementary school. We had those desks with the wooden top that was a solid
slab of maple and it was hinged at the front and lifted up to reveal storage space beneath
and you could put your lunch box in there along with notebooks, pencils and anything else
you wanted stolen.
after arrival at the school, the bomb was in my desk and Bobby Cannon was in
the back of the room, his fate firmly lodged in my hands.
I was unusually fidgety throughout the morning and when
the lunch bell rang, my heart rate was right up there, pounding along. This was going to
be a hell of a bang. Getting caught had never entered my mind.
In the lunchroom, I sat down, and sure enough, here
came good old Bobby. I figured the moment was at hand.
Then, from the overhead speakers of the principal’s
P. A. system came an announcement.
everyone! We have received a telephone bomb threat. Please evacuate the school
building immediately. Exit the building by whatever door is nearest to where
you are. The police are on their way. We will continue lunch next hour, after
the building has been cleared.”
shit! A bomb threat? Really? Bobby looked at me and
I looked at him and he said, “I need to talk to you. Outside.”
I picked up my lunch
box and we hurried outside. We went to the playground and that was when I noticed Bobby
was carrying something, too. I looked closer and saw it was a Bible. Yep, over the summer,
Bobby had gone to church camp, and he had gotten religion in a big way.
He sauntered over to me and said, “Kerry, I need
to apologize for all the bad stuff I did to you, but especially for your bike. What I did
was wrong, and I just want you to know how sorry I am…” Then he walked away.
And there I was,
with a perfectly good bomb in my lunchbox and nobody to kill with it. Late that same day,
I dismantled my device and took the dynamite way back to the woods on the back of our property
and buried it. I set off the blasting cap the next Fourth of July when the air was full
of fireworks, and nobody ever knew the difference.
I never kept up much
with kids I went to school with, but I did hear Bobby went to seminary and later that he
had his own church in Ohio. I still shudder to think what might have happened if that single
stick of dynamite had gone off in the crowded lunchroom.
The police made a big show of checking the school building, but they knew the bomb
threat was just some prankster fucking around. They never found a thing…
Kenneth James Crist
WHOP! Ouch, goddamn, that one hurt. . . .
SMACK! Okay, that one not so much. . . still, after
a while, soreness develops and they all begin to hurt.
The inside of the bag was beginning to get sticky, and I knew what
from. Blood. Specifically, my blood. They’d managed to break my nose again, I was
pretty sure and it was bleeding pretty good. Not that it was fatal or anything. Noses
usually clot fairly quickly and since my doctor had taken me off the baby
aspirin, I didn’t bleed like I used to.
Damn! Didn’t see that one coming. Shit!
name is Kerry Howland, by the way. Retired cop and mean old fucker. Nowadays, I
take care of shit the cops can’t and I enjoy the hell outta that. I just about
had these assholes right where I wanted them.
Shit, lights out for a while . . . falling, falling . . . least it didn’t hurt….
awake again. Quiet right now. We must be on a break. No pun intended . . . Call
me Crank. Everybody does. Except these gang-bangin’ fuckers. They’ve called me
every name in the book, but they haven’t even really pissed me off, yet. God
save us from fucking amateurs.
always seem to prefer flex-cuffs, for some reason. I guess it’s the cool thing
to use. See that on TV all the time. I knew we were in Delano somewhere. That’s
the area west of the river in Wichita, where all the whore houses and bad taverns
and gambling dens were, back in the 1800s. I could tell, because of the brick streets and
the noise. Then it got quiet, and a garage door rolled up. We rolled inside in their old,
piece-of-shit van, and here we were. But the girl was safe, that much I knew, because if
they’d found her, I’d be dead.
She was the daughter of an old friend. She had a drug and alcohol
problem, but it went deeper than that. She liked to run with the so-called criminal element.
Liked to sleep with them too. Seemed she was doing everything she could to
degrade and debase herself. Not a good thing for a cop’s daughter. Embarrassing
for the family, too. And I was sure that was the point of the whole exercise.
To embarrass daddy and the police department as much as possible. What is it
about cop’s kids, anyway?
her off the street had been the easy part. She walked out of her favorite dope
den, stoned to the gills and I pulled up on a loud purple Harley and offered her a
ride. Took her about .3 seconds to jump her cute little self on the back and we hauled
ass. I could feel her trying to nod off on the back. Bit of a dicey situation until I got
her to the Bulgarian’s motel out in Kechi. His wife would keep her there by whatever
means it took. The Bulgarian’s wife was big. Looked like someone shaved a Yeti and
the Bulgarian loved her big ass to the exclusion of all other women on the planet. I had
no idea what she did for him, but whatever it was, he was hooked on it.
I barely got the Harley back from the “test ride”
and dropped off at Twister City Harley-Davidson, when the boyfriend and his thug buddies
jumped me at a Quik Trip convenience store and here we are. I’m strapped to a wooden
chair with flex-cuffs and a black cloth bag over my head and they keep asking where
Alexandria is and smacking me. It’s getting tiresome, both for them and for me,
but you make promises, and you keep ‘em. Simple as that. I’d promised to get
Alexandria out of the grip of the Junior Boys and into rehab. It most likely
wouldn’t work, but I only promised to get her there. I figured she needed a lot
more help than just getting off the drugs.
thing about flex-cuffs. They’re made of a plastic shit and like all plastics,
heat is not their friend. How do we make heat, boys and girls? Friction, right.
I had been working the cuffs against the wood of the chair vigorously for quite
a while and they were pretty hot. Hot enough I could smell them, even with my
busted, clotted nose. Finally, the right one popped. With one hand free, I pulled the black
bag off my head gingerly, feeling dried blood sticking to the material.
They had given me a cursory search, looking mostly for
guns. They had taken my wallet, but it was laying right over there on an old, dusty work
bench. They hadn’t found the folding ceramic knife in my sock. It’s designed
to open one- handed, and that was a good thing. It’s about five times sharper than
any steel blade ever made, and it cut through the rest of the flex-cuffs like they were
string. Let the fun begin.
knew it wouldn’t be long before they came back, and I quickly looked around. I
was in some sort of old automotive garage, and it was pretty big. Up in one
corner was a heater that looked like it might be gas-fired. Over by the bench
was a set of oxygen-acetylene tanks for a cutting torch. Okay, this was gonna be a blast.
I went to the tanks and opened the valves all the way. Grabbed my wallet and stuffed it
in my pocket, then slid under the van. The gas tank was plastic. Two jabs with the ceramic
knife, and gasoline was running everywhere.
The office area was in the back, and I could see light in there,
but no movement. Well, maybe they stepped out to smoke. One could only hope. . . .
By the exit door, to the left of the garage roll-up
door was the thermostat for the overhead heater. I cranked it as high as it would go and
stepped out the door into the night. I made it almost two blocks and I was beginning to
think I’d fucked up, when there was a dull thump and then a really loud bang. I
stepped around the corner of an old brick building just in case of shrapnel and
when shit stopped raining down, I hailed a cab and headed out to recover my
fuck happened to you?” The cabby was looking me over, and he handed me some paper
towels. I wiped blood and gore and said, “Just a disagreement. Over a woman. I’m
sure you see it all the time.”
no shit. What’s the other guy look like?”
did ya hear that big bang a minute ago?”
sounded like somethin’ blew up. . . .”
“That was him.”
“No shit? Cool. . . .”
“Yeah. Tell ya what, take me up to 61st and the
Canal Route. I wanna see if my truck’s still there.”
“No problem, man. . . .” He handed me more
paper towels. Evidently, he’d been driving hack long enough to know about always
having sick bags and clean-up stuff handy. As he drove us east on Douglas, he kept having
to pull over for fire equipment. Sorry guys, I thought, I know you got enough
shit to do without me causin’ more, but a guy has to take care of himself.
My Tacoma was
still there at the Quik Trip, and it didn’t appear that anyone was watching it. Hopefully
all those fucks were dead. I paid the cabby and went inside and got coffee and used the
restroom. In the mirror, the damage didn’t look nearly as bad as it felt.
My cell phone was still in the glove box of the truck.
I dug it out and called the Bulgarian. No answer. What the fuck? It’s a motel, for
fuck’s sake. I tried it again, hoping he was just busy. Still nothing but ringtone.
I pointed the truck north and hit the gas.
minutes up the I-135 and there was the Red Roof Inn. Six cop cars in the lot.
Two had the entrances blocked, two were at the office and two plain cars were
in front of room 126 where Alexandria had been. I parked a block off and walked
back. Got intercepted by a uniform as soon as my foot hit the lot.
“Help you, Sir?” He didn’t
look like he really gave a rat’s ass about helping me, but he was polite.
“Sir, it doesn’t concern you. You need to
move along. . . .”
bullshit. It does concern me. Who’s runnin’ the show here?”
“Captain Rogers from homicide.”
“Awww, shit. Get him.”
“He’s kinda busy, Sir.”
“Just get him! Tell him I have information.”
“And who are you, Sir?”
I showed him my retirement badge and ID card. He scurried
off to find Rogers.
I waited, being a good boy, I gazed off toward the office. Looking through the
glass, I could see at least one sheet-covered body on the floor, half-way
behind the desk.
Rogers walked up, looking grim and harassed. He didn’t say anything at first, but
he offered his hand. We had worked property crimes together way back in the day. “Who
got it? There in the office?”
and his wife. Guy named . . .” He pulled out his notebook and focused his
bifocals on a page.
mind, I know ‘em both. What about the girl?”
girl in room 126. Is she dead, too?”
no girl in there. The door was kicked in and there’s a small amount of blood,
but nobody there.”
you get the call?”
of shots fired. Owner got off some shots, but apparently not enough. Or he ran
outta ammo. They chased him back into the office and got him and the woman in there.”
“Okay . . .” I breathed out from my mouth
and Rogers said, “What happened to you?”
filled him in on the whole deal with Alexandria, my abduction and beating, and
the garage fire in Delano.
you didn’t think you needed to call us, huh?”
didn’t need any help up till now.”
old fucker, you’re gonna get yer ass killed one-a these days. So, gimme the
info on this doper chick and I’ll get it out there and we’ll see what develops….”
I gave him everything I had, then asked, “So,
who can I reach out to in the Gang Unit?”
“Uh-uh, no fuckin’ way, Kerry. You stay away from this
bullshit. You’ve caused enough trouble for one night. Go home. Get some rest. Keep
your gun handy, too, okay?” He walked away, headed back toward the office. As I
headed back toward my truck, the “No Vacancy” sign came on. . . .
old man had made it all the way to Deputy Chief before he pulled the pin and
retired. He had beaten lung cancer, two heart attacks, and prostate surgery and
he looked it. Her mom had died when Alex was twelve and now Pop was in Shadybrook
“assisted living” facility in Goddard, five miles west of Wichita.
knew I’d never get in to see him in the middle of the night, so I went home and
caught a few hours of restless sleep. The noise I heard when I got up was the
crack of dawn. I drove to Eisenhower airport and parked in the long-term and
walked over to Avis and rented a new Mustang. My truck was too well-known for
what was coming. I made sure I got the extra insurance on the car. I was pretty sure
this was going to get dirty. I went by the house and opened the gun safe and got out a
few items I might need, packed the trunk of the Mustang, and headed west.
It was a quarter to eight when I got to Shadybrook.
The old gal on the desk recognized me and buzzed me in. Assisted living, my ass. Fuckin’
place was a combination prison and warehouse for old folks. Thomas “Whizzer”
Connelly was finishing breakfast. Most of it seemed to have found its way onto a cloth
napkin tied on him like a bib. He offered a liver-spotted, palsied hand and his
grip was as hard as ever.
he wheezed, “how’s it goin’?”
“We should talk in private, Tom.” All around the table,
nosy old farts with ears as big as pizzas were dying to know everything that was happening
out in the world. Especially if it was something juicy. Fuck ‘em. We went to Tom’s
room and shut the door. Took a while, with him pushing an elaborate walker.
was able to fill him in on everything that had happened so far.
Boys? Shit,” he said, “I thought the Crips and Bloods and MS-13s had run them
outta town a long time ago.”
I thought so, too, but they’re alive and well. Or, some of them are. After last
night, I’m sure they’re taking applications. . . .”
me an evil grin. “Whizzer” was a name he’d gotten for himself way back
when he was riding motorcycles. He’d had a friend modify his old, wheel-driven
siren so it sounded different from everyone else’s. Sounded like one of those kids’
rings that you blew into and it whistled. Thus, he became Whizzer on the street, and it
stuck. Kinda like “Crank.”
last thing he said, as I was getting ready to leave was, “Get her back if ya
can, Crank. She’s all I got left, ya know…” I didn’t have to look twice to see
tears in the old man’s eyes.
The rental Mustang wasn’t a hot rod by any means.
It had the V-6 engine and automatic, power everything and a nice stereo. It handled good,
but it wasn’t going to outrun a cop car. It was dark blue and shiny and had tinted
glass. It would do.
needed someplace to work out of that wasn’t my home and Motel 6 was as good as
any. I checked in to the one on the east side on Kellogg and paid in advance
for a week. Then I started making phone calls. I called friends and friends of
friends on the department, and also on the Sheriff’s department. Both had gang
units and a lot of duplicate information. In law enforcement, there really is a “good
old boy” network and I used it all to my advantage.
After almost two hours of begging and pleading, I had
three addresses and seven names to start working on. As I left the motel, I saw an actual
newspaper rack by the office. I stopped and bought a copy of the Eagle. Splashed across
the front page was, EXPLOSION IN DELANO KILLS FOUR, INJURES THREE. I threw the paper in
the front seat of my rental and took off.
dead and that was just for starters. Nothing to really connect me with them,
except what the homicide dicks knew, and I was pretty sure they would just make
some marks on their score sheet and figure the city was that much safer.
Gangs nowadays seldom have
a single building where they hide out or do business. Especially so-called “youth”
gangs. Lots of those little pricks still live with their Momma and whenever they get in
trouble, that’s exactly where they run to. I started driving by addresses in the
city’s near east side, looking for vehicles on the list I had compiled from Gang
Unit information. I didn’t have to drive very far.
At 1556 N. Erie, I spotted a black Durango in the driveway. Danarius
Johnson, 18-year-old black male. Armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft
auto, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, all as a juvie. No adult record.
Yet. Just a matter of time.
blocks west on Grove, I found a purple Charger registered to Mahalia R. Rolfe,
Mommy of Raymond Rolfe. This prick had killed a man in a candy store holdup
when he was thirteen and had just gotten out of juvenile lockup a month prior.
Knowing Grove was a main north-south artery in this part of town, I set up where I could
see three blocks of Grove and three of Fifteenth street.
I drank coffee and read my paper and waited to see what
might develop. By noon, I was pretty sure the fucks were sleeping in, which was typical.
I headed out and got some lunch at a burger joint, then went to yet another Quik Trip and
hit the restroom. At last count Wichita has thirty-eight Quik Trip stores and I
knew every one of them.
on the block I sat and watched some more. At two-fifteen, the purple Charger
cruised by and I decided to see where he went. I hung back a long ways and
almost lost him a couple times. Eventually, he got on the I-135 and headed north.
He slowed way down as he went by the Bulgarian’s motel, but of course that really
means nothing. Maybe he was involved in that whole thing, maybe not. Maybe one of his homies
just told him all about it.
When he continued
on north, I began to wonder where we were going. I felt like he was taking me away from
where I needed to be, but all I had was time.
The city of Newton is an old railroad town and still has actual
passenger rail service on the Amtrak. It’s not a very big town and I knew nothing
about gang activity there. Rolfe cruised on into North Newton, a separate suburb with even
less going for it.
watched from a block and a half away as he parked in front of an old,
two-story, ramshackle house. As he walked up onto the front porch, who should stumble
out the door and into this asshole’s arms, but Alexandria? Bingo. Time to get to
I parked a block away and
took a casual walk up the street. I figured Rolfe and Alexandria were probably busy reuniting
and would be for a while. When I got up to the purple Charger, I walked out into the street
and quickly squatted down and used the ceramic knife to stab the sidewall of the driver’s
side tire. Then I walked on. Around the block and back to my car. I sat and waited a while
it was starting to get dark, I got out and opened the trunk and got out a palm
slapper, a large leather blackjack weighted with lead shot. It was an old item I used
to carry when I was still a patrol cop. I moved down the street and stood in the twilight
behind a tree and waited.
In a little
while Rolfe came out to his car and discovered his flat tire. I heard the muttered “Mother
fucker—,” then he opened his trunk and got out a jack and lug wrench.
Just as he was loosening the first lug nut, I stepped
up behind him and thumped him behind the ear with the palm slapper. He folded neatly to
the pavement, and I left him there.
walked rapidly to the front door and tried it. Locked. Well, fuck it. I stepped
back and kicked it in and went through the house with my Glock in my hand,
clearing rooms as I went. When I got to the back bedroom, I found her.
Alexandria was lying across
the bed on her back, a tight ligature made of surgical tubing around her arm and a hypodermic
needle still in the vein. I checked her for vitals and found nothing.
I pulled my phone, dialed 911 and sprinted for my rental
car. As I explained the situation to the call taker, I rooted around in my kit and found
a bolus of Narcan and a syringe and sprinted back to the house. I finished talking to 911
and administered the Narcan and started CPR.
took four minutes, give or take, before the squad from the local fire station
rolled up. An eternity when you’re doing CPR. It’s not like you see it on
television. True CPR is a brutal and exhausting process and if you’re not
hearing ribs crack, you’re not doing it right.
firefighters on the squad truck made me stop and listened for a heartbeat.
Checked for vitals. Took a quick temperature.
lieutenant looked at me and shook his head, “She’s been dead for an hour, sir.
It’s great that you tried, but it was wasted effort, I’m afraid.”
“All right guys. Thanks for coming. Sorry I wasted
your time. . . .”
about the guy out front, layin’ by the car? What’s the story on him?”
“The story on him is that he’s a murderer.
First cop on the scene needs to grab him up. He did this to her.”
“Okay, we’re treating him now. We’ll
keep him here until they arrive.”
Captain Rogers from homicide was no more pleased with
me this time than he had been at the motel. He and his crew worked the crime scene and
took Rolfe into custody on my word that he was the only person in the house with Alexandria.
only joy was that I would take on the chore of going to Shadybrook care home and
making the notification to Tom Connelly that Alexandria had no more drug problems.
“Well, at least let me get a Chaplain to go with
ya, Crank. . . .”
Cap, that would be nice.”
the Police Chaplain had been contacted and agreed he would meet me at Shadybrook,
and I took off to go deliver bad news.
had promised to get her into rehab, and I had not been able to accomplish that one
simple task, but sometimes that is the nature of police work, both active and retired.
The first thing the rookie cop learns is that you can’t arrest all the bad guys and
you can’t save all the good people. What you do often barely scratches the surface
of what really needs to be done. And each day you do the job to the best of your ability
and then put it in the locker along with the uniform and go home to your family. You suck
it up and move on, knowing the next day will be a whole new ball game. . . .
I got to Shadybrook and met the Chaplain, a huge black
guy named Cooper who had been around for years. He had seen everything twice and knew what
he was doing. If anyone ever had special communication with The Lord, Coop did.
We went inside
and managed to avoid all the nosy old birds as we made our way to Tom Connolly’s
room. As soon as we walked in, Tom began to weep. He knew the addition of the Chaplain
meant bad news.
dead, isn’t she?” Tears streamed down his face, and he brushed at them angrily.
“Yeah, Tom. They managed to kill her. Overdosed
her with heroin. The doer’s in custody. . . .” It rang hollow as I said it,
a lame excuse for a job poorly done.
held the hand of the man I’d failed and, along with Chaplain Cooper, we prayed
for Alexandria’s soul. Later, when his daughter was laid to rest, I would take
him to the service and the graveyard, because there was no one else to do it.
As soon as
I was able, I left and returned the Mustang to the airport. And then I took my tired, hurtin’
old ass home. I would live for another day. . . .
Kenneth James Crist
never shot a single person when I was a cop. Like most cops, I just never happened to be
in the right place at the right time, with the right set of circumstances. Came
close a few times, but no joy. Or maybe that’s too harsh. Cops are supposed to
be like everyone else. If a cop has to kill someone in a line-of-duty shooting,
they’re supposed to agonize over it for months and go through therapy and have
millions of sleepless nights.
I’ve known cops who
shot some vicious asshole and never went to the shrink and never lost a
minute’s sleep over it. And couldn’t wait for a chance to do it again. Myself—I
never started killing people until after I retired from police work. My name is
Kerry Howland, but you can call me Crank. Six years ago, I retired. And then I
found my calling. I do what the cops can’t and I never see a shrink, either.
And I sleep just fine.
Long before I ever
thought about a career in law enforcement, I was military. Vietnam was my war
and I set foot in South Vietnam exactly twice. And yet, I fought in the war and
got my kills just like everyone else.
When I went through
boot camp, they noticed I could shoot way better than average and flagged my
files. Later, during Ranger school I was taken to several thousand-yard rifle
ranges and given some rudimentary instruction and tested. After that, I went to
the Army’s elite sniper school and that’s how I spent my war.
I would be choppered to an area along
with my spotter and we would spend many hours, sometimes days getting into position to
make a shot and leave. Only twice was I ever detailed to make a shot inside South Vietnam.
The rest of the missions were in the north and in countries we were not technically at
But long-range rifle
work is a perishable skill and when the call came, along with a sizeable
retainer, I had to find a private range where I could reacquire the skills that had deteriorated
over the years. There are such places in Kansas, mostly hidden on farms well away from
populated areas. You locate them by the old grapevine method, through a friend of a friend
and certain vows are taken and promises made, not to mention the exchange of money and
favors. There were six families who had pooled their resources to make this happen, families
of victims who knew that without me or someone like me, justice for their loved ones would
never be served. They were also aware that if we were caught, they could well
be charged with conspiracy to commit murder. We did not have a meeting. There
were no discussions. The decisions were made long before I was ever contacted.
Kansas is a death penalty state, but
there would be no state-sanctioned execution for this guy. During the time he was active,
Kansas had abolished its death penalty, only to once again reinstate it after he was through
destroying lives. Ten life sentences to run consecutively was the worst the state could
do with him. I was pretty sure I could do much worse.
a rifle such as the Barrett .50 caliber long-range sniper rifle is a tricky proposition
because there are so few of them in use. At the same time, they are imminently
available, but damned expensive. I started making the rounds of the gun shows,
both in Kansas and Oklahoma. I had an advantage of a sort. The asshole wasn’t
going anywhere and there was no time limitation to get the job done. The
families would just as soon not know when it was going to happen. The money had already
been set aside in a blind trust which could not be accessed by me or anyone else until
the performance was over.
It took ten months
to find the rifle and buy it for cash out of the back of an old rattletrap van
in the parking lot of a venue in Kansas City. It had been fired a few times and the
owner had gotten over the novelty and realized he had a lot of money tied up in a toy he
was unlikely to ever use for what it was intended. I took it off his hands for $6,800 and
no questions either way. It might have even been stolen. If I got caught, that would be
the least of my problems.
I spent another
thousand dollars on ammunition, and didn’t get that much. It’s damned expensive
to buy and when you’re practicing at one of those hidden ranges, you don’t
leave any expended brass lying around when you leave. What I purchased was the
standard, military-grade .50 caliber machine gun round. After it was all fired,
the brass would be perfectly expanded to microscopically fit the chamber of my rifle. As
“once-fired” brass, it was actually worth more than new stuff.
it went to a friend I have been using to reload match-grade ammo for years. All I had to
tell him was what I wanted and how much I could afford to spend. He loves the
phrase, “Money is no object…” Special bullets, designed for maximum range with
a special load and primer in use behind them would add as much as 500 yards to
the range of the gun, just by increasing the velocity and flattening the
trajectory. I might not need it, but I wouldn’t know for sure until I found my
that one spot where I could ingress and egress without being seen and get within range
of the facility would not be easy. The Supermax at El Dorado, Kansas was
designed not only to hold the inmates in maximum security, but to protect them
from all manner of guys like me who would like to kill them. The fuck-stick I
was going to kill was locked down in solitary confinement 23 out of every 24 hours.
He got one hour per day in the exercise yard by himself and the time he got to go outside
was constantly changed by the staff.
Unlike many older
facilities, it had no walls as such. It has lots of chain-link fence and rolled
razor wire and an observation tower and cameras. And guys with rifles who would
do the exact same thing I was going to do, if an inmate was stupid enough to
try and climb or cut their way out. I knew that among inmates at that facility there was
no doubt about what would happen. In short, they would just fill you full of lead and call
it a day.
My problem was that,
when they planned the facility, they didn’t want anything for anyone to be able
to hide behind anywhere near the facility. If you approached it from any
direction, you were in plain sight for a half mile or more.
U.S. Highway 54
passed within a half mile and was in fact the only road that could be used to
access the prison. Part of their protocol was to investigate any vehicle that
should happen to stop within sight of the place without turning in and coming to the
gate. They had their own patrol vehicles. They also had instant contact with the Kansas
Highway Patrol, the Butler County Sheriff's Office, and the El Dorado Police Department.
And for all I knew, the FBI, KBI, DEA and Department of Homeland Security. I might get
one shot, then it was escape and evade. No second chances.
I never got my shot, there was no loser. I wouldn’t get paid and the families would
eventually get their money back after the murdering asshole died of natural causes. I had
heard he had cancer, so that could very well happen. He would be just as dead.
It just wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic. Or satisfying.
the end, it was the landscape planner who became my greatest ally in fulfilling my mission,
for that’s what it became. I would not let it become an obsession, because that’s
how mistakes are made. I could not afford mistakes. Not unless I wanted to wind
up right in there in that same prison. At my age, a life sentence wouldn’t
really be that long, but still…
When in the planning
stage, the architect apparently decided early on that this would not be just
another ugly-ass prison. And in fact he, or they, had done a good job. From a
distance, if one chose to ignore the signs out front, it really looked like a
college campus, or maybe a high-end industrial park. There were no walls as I said before,
and the one large guard tower looked more like a control tower at an airport. Security
was accomplished by keeping inmates inside buildings except when they had access to the
exercise yard, which sat directly below that control tower, well with sight and gun range
of the guards.
In their anxiety
over making it look like anything but a prison, they had planted a number of
trees, which were now about half-grown. I hiked the area every day for a week, with a
rifle and a deer tag. I started on opening day of deer season and stayed far enough away
from the facility not to arouse suspicion, but near enough to be able to use a hand-held
spotting scope to check out details. On day three, it dawned on me that they had planted
their trees in straight rows. Far enough apart that it wasn’t obvious to the casual
observer, but there it was. If I parked my ass in just the right place, I could line the
trees up and use them to break up my outline, and muzzle flash, while shooting right past
the nicely lined-up trunks.
The only fly in the
ointment was all that chain-link fence. While a .50 caliber machine gun bullet
had a lot of weight and muzzle energy, I had no idea how badly one of those
bullets might be deflected by hitting a wire of that gauge and strength. Back to
the firing range for more testing. Some of my expended brass were going to be reloaded
for the second or third time.
After setting up and
stretching chain-link fence in front of my targets and shooting from various
distances I found that over half the time I could shoot through the fencing
without hitting a wire. When I did hit a wire, a square hit did not deflect any
noticeable amount and a grazing hit deflected so little I stopped worrying about it. Well,
I next spent two
weeks hiding and observing the routine of the prison. Using my spotting scope
from a spot I had picked as a nest, I watched the exercise yard at various
times of day. During nighttime hours, the place was floodlighted to the max and objects
and people actually were more starkly highlighted than during daylight hours. In natural
sunlight, the sun moved across the sky, so highlighting and shadows were constantly changing.
At night, nothing changed unless there was fog or smoke. The prison is located on the western
edge of the Kansas Flint Hills and in the spring, pasture burning is a common practice.
Hopefully, the deed would be done before spring.
weeks is a long time to spend alone, sitting in a blind and watching. When I did this in
the military, a lot of the planning and intelligence work was done for me, before I
ever arrived in the theater of operations. The target will be at so-and-so
from such-and-such time to such-and-such time. He is five feet six inches and
smokes heavily. He wears his dress uniform exclusively. This is his picture…
and so forth. This time I did it all myself, because I learned long ago two
people can keep a secret just fine—if one of them is dead. I could not afford
to trust anyone.
I soon learned that
this would be a night shot. The target was never let out into the exercise yard
in daylight. It was always at night because he was not allowed contact with any
other inmates. I saw him a number of times, as early as eight PM and as late as four AM.
That was acceptable. In fact, that was ideal. It meant it was only an eight-hour shift.
I didn’t like the fact that it would be dark. If a single staff member happened to
be looking my direction, there was no way they could miss the muzzle flash from the Barrett
and that would make egress much more risky. I had no way to access their contingency plan
in the case of a sniper, but I had no doubt there was one. How well it would be studied
by staff members was another question entirely. How well it might be executed was anybody’s
I drove and timed my
egress route and I hated the fact it would be mostly over gravel roads. If it
was windy, the dust would dissipate more quickly, but the wind would make the
shot more difficult. If it was still, the shot would be easier, but dust would
tend to hang in the air longer. I needed a night when it had rained, so the dust would
be minimal or absent. What I actually got was snow.
I had planned on
using a Ghillie suit, but that changed when we got snow in mid-December. I
changed to a white suit and decided to get it done before the snow all disappeared.
PM. I had been in the nest since 7:40. I had parked my truck and hiked in and got myself
set up. No spotting scope tonight. The rifle was set up and ready on a white ground
cloth which allowed me to avoid getting wet from the snow. I had white towels
wrapped and tied around my boots. Nobody would identify my boot tracks.
The target walked out into the yard,
wearing a parka and his prison orange, gloves and a skull cap. I could see his glasses
reflecting in the garish overhead lights. The two staff officers spoke with him for a few
minutes and then went back inside. Now I had an hour.
the scope, I could clearly see his features and the fact he had decided to grow a bit of
a beard. His color didn’t look good and I thought about the rumored cancer. But
maybe it was just the lighting. The halogen lights tended to wash out color. I
loaded the first shell, cycled the bolt shut and released the safety.
The optics of the scope, curiously, caused
the chain link wire to virtually disappear. I settled the cross hairs on his head and gave
the wind a final check. There was a windsock conveniently located off to the right, at
the helipad. I assumed the heliport was probably so they could medivac any injured quickly
away. The windsock was limp, so I left my windage adjustments alone. I checked my
combination thermometer/hygrometer. I raised my elevation one click for
humidity. I looked back through the scope and the asshole was gone.
Scanning, I quickly picked him up again.
He was walking briskly around the yard. Well, shit. I never figured he would actually exercise.
What the fuck did he need to stay in shape for? This was going to be more difficult. Not
impossible. I was pretty good at firing a round and letting the target just walk into it
when I was doing this in the military, but that was many years ago. I watched and tracked
and waited. He was bound to stop at some point. And after twenty minutes, he
did. A model prisoner, he didn’t approach the fence, which would be a violation
and might cost him his yard time. He just stopped and stood perfectly still.
And I squeezed. The recoil slammed into my shoulder and the sound was tremendous,
even with the traffic noise from the highway. I threw a white sheet over the gun and lay
perfectly still and waited.
In short order, two
staff officers ran out into the yard and looked down at the target. The fact
they didn’t bend down and assess him or touch him told me my shot was a good
one. There probably wasn’t much left of his head. One of the officers spoke
into his radio and in ten seconds, a siren started whooping and it was time for
me to leave.
I figured if they’d
seen the muzzle flash, they’d be concentrating their efforts immediately in my
direction. Three patrol cars pulled out of the compound and headed three
directions, beginning what I hoped would be a random search. I eased backward, folding
the bipod on the gun, and keeping it wrapped. I moved back through brush, turned and crawled
until I was far enough over a slight rise that I could stand and not be obvious. I headed
out toward my truck, which was in a field, tucked in behind an old combine that had been
left when it finally could harvest no more.
my way there, a patrol car came down the gravel road and I dropped flat and held still.
Their spotlight swept right across me, once, twice, and then I heard the brakes and
the car stopped. I had nothing I could do. Running would be obvious and a dead
giveaway. If they had seen enough to arouse their suspicion, I was fucked,
because I would not kill a law enforcement officer to get away. The spotlight
on the car was not on me, but there was no way I could tell what had caught the officer’s
attention. I wasn’t even sure if there was one officer in the car or two. I held
my breath so no steam would show in the cold night air and waited to be arrested. In the
stillness, I could hear the engine quietly idling and then I heard an electric window motor
as the glass on the side of the car nearest me went down.
voice said, “Look at that big fucker! He’s just standing there! What a shot!”
voice said, “Yeah, ya never see that shit when they’re in season. It’s like
they know somehow what day it is and that ya can’t shoot their ass.”
The first voice said, “Fido, man,
let’s roll.” The window went up and the car accelerated, gravel crunching under
its tires. I breathed at last and slowly raised my head. About forty feet away a twelve-point
buck stood, unmoving and a perfect target. The car was almost five hundred yards away now
and I stood up. The buck snorted and began to turn to run. I said, quietly, “Thank
you, my friend.”
As I walked on to my
truck, I thought about the term “Fido.” I was surprised it was still in use. It
had been common when I was a cop. It meant, “Fuck it—drive on.”
White on white is
some of the best camouflage. At my truck, I stashed everything in the back
under the fiberglass cover then started the truck and let it warm up fully. A cold engine
will leave a vapor trail that clearly indicates to a law officer that it hasn’t been
driven very far. Modern catalytic convertors do a lot to make engines warm up quickly and
I was soon on my way. I saw no other law enforcement vehicles on my way out of the area.
I arrived at my home before midnight
and left the truck outside on the drive. I spent an hour with an oxygen/acetylene torch,
cutting up the Barret into small chunks and dropping them into a 55-gallon drum that was
near full of waste oil. I would sell the remainder of my .50 caliber ammo at the next gun
show for more than I’d paid for it.
demise of the aged serial killer was big news for about five days, which is about the normal
amount of time for a news story unless leads are developed to give it legs and
keep it going. I have heard nothing over the GOBLEN grapevine about much of an
investigation going anywhere. GOBLEN? Stands for Good Old Boy Law Enforcement
Network. If I had anything to worry about, I’d know.
when I need it, I might go get the money. Right now, I’m in no hurry. Sometimes,
a job well done is its own reward…
Incident in Dodge
Kenneth James Crist
14th, 1888, in Dodge City, Kansas.
rather smallish dapple-gray mare ambles along the dry, dusty Front Street. She is tired
and thirsty, as is the slight, well-dressed man in her saddle. He rides with the
loose, disjointed posture of one who has traveled on horseback for most of his
life and he is no youngster. His suit is well-cut, though dusty, and is
entirely black, as is his shirt, neatly knotted tie and firmly-crowned Stetson hat.
His boots, also black, could use a wax and polish and show evidence of riding through brush.
quiet clopping of the mare’s hooves stops as he pulls her to a stop in front of the
apothecary shop on the north side of the street. He dismounts slowly, giving his joints
time to settle into a standing posture, then he secures the mare’s reins to a
hitching rail. From his vest pocket he takes a single cube of sugar, and
placing it on the flattened palm of his hand, he offers it to the mare. Her
lips delicately fumble for the treat and take it without touching the man’s
glove. The sugar dissolves on the animal’s tongue. The man reaches up and strokes
the animal’s neck and he says, “I’ll just be a minute here, Perse, and
then we’ll get you fed and watered.” Persephone’s head nods as though she might
understand perfectly the man’s conversation.
Jake Withers looks
up from behind the counter, as the tiny bell above the door jingles. He adjusts
his spectacles and takes in the stranger as the latter approaches the counter
of the apothecary shop. The man is about five feet and maybe nine inches and
thin. Jake looks over the suit and notes the seams and tailoring. Expensive duds to be
riding in, he thinks, and he doesn’t fail to note the pair of Colt Army Dragoon revolvers,
worn butts forward and low on the man’s hips. There have been a number of improvements
in firearms since those were produced and Jake wonders why the well-dressed man clings
to outdated firearms.
“What can I help you
with, today, Sir?” Jake’s smile is automatic and neither false nor genuine.
It’s just there, the working smile of a salesman.
man looks Jake up and down and says, “I need something to relieve a sore tooth. Probably
should get the damn thing pulled, but I hate a dentist…”
says, “Got just the thing, right here.” He reaches to a shelf behind the
counter and brings forth a small blue bottle with an eyedropper in the top.
“Whenever that ol’ tooth gets ta botherin’ ya, just put a drop or two directly
on it. Fifty cents. Can’t go wrong at that price.”
let me have two of those,” the man says and produces a dollar coin from a pocket.
Jake wraps both bottles carefully in brown paper and places them in a small paper
bag and hands them over. “Will there be anything else, Sir?”
“Ya got anything to
drink back there? Anything cold, maybe?”
Sir, got somethin’ new you could try. Man in Georgia makes this stuff called Coca-Cola.
Got quite a zip to it. Just came out last year…”
it’s cold and wet, ya don’t have to sell me very hard…”
steps back into an adjacent room, where his icebox is and comes back with a smallish bottle
and uses an opener to pop it open. “That’s a nickel,” he says, “might
help that tooth a little, too. It’s got coca extract in it.”
stranger drops a nickel on the counter and takes the bottle to a small, marble-topped table,
one of several along the west wall of the shop. He sits and sips his drink and
suppresses a belch or two. In a few minutes, Jake comes out from behind the counter
and asks, “How’s that drink, Sir?”
damn tasty. What’d you call it again?”
Coca-Cola, Sir. Say, can I ask a question? Not to be personal, but I was wondering why
you carry those old Dragoons? There being so many more modern pieces available
nowadays? Just kinda curious, ya know…
stranger reaches right-handed and pulls the revolver from his left holster and holds it
up to the light from the front window. The blued steel gleams and the walnut grip
shines. “I like the smoke of black powder,” he says, “and the feel of a heavy
gun. I like the noise of a .44 and the way it’ll knock a man clean off his
feet. That’s all. Just my kinda gun.”
Persephone stands patiently, switching her tail to keep the biting flies moving. Occasionally,
one will land on her front shoulder and she will twitch her muscles to make it
move. Her thoughts are not deep thoughts, but she does have memories and
anticipations. She is in love with the Man, as much as a species of four-legged
transport animal can love a two-legged master. She has loved him as long as she can
remember, but her memory is not that long. She does remember an incident that took place
a long time ago involving herself, the Man and a rattlesnake. Like most horses, Perse has
a loathing and fear of snakes and, though she doesn’t remember where the incident
occurred, she remembers clearly the buzz of the reptile and seeing it lashing back and
forth as it backed away from her and the Man. She remembers the Man, sawing the reins left
and nudging her with a spurred heel, getting her to move in a side-step. And she
remembers the Man pointing his finger at the snake and a strange, crackling noise, and
in her panic, seeing the snake blacken and burn into a charred husk of harmless meat.
She remembers, too,
the way the Man dismounted and took the time to speak with her and calm her
with his gentle touch, rather than just riding on and expecting her to deal with her
fear alone. Now, Perse is half-asleep, when a woman brushes past and the mare takes a half-step
to the right, making way for the human. The woman goes into the same doorway the Man went
Jake and the stranger are conversing, the front door of the shop opens and the bell jingles.
A woman walks into the shop and Jake quickly steps to his counter. The stranger
rises and tips his Stetson slightly and says, “Ma’am…” She nods and says,
“Good day, Sir” and continues on to the counter, where she makes several purchases.
As she leaves, the stranger again rises and again touches his hat and says,
“Good day, Madam.” Her cheeks flush a little, but she again wishes him a
pleasant day and she exits the store.
Jake comes back from
behind his counter and, with a snicker, says, “Madam. You’re entirely correct
in this case, Sir. I’m sure you wouldn’t know who she is, then?”
at all,” says the stranger, “just being polite.”
runs the brothel down at the end of Tinker’s Alley. That’s Susan Sullivan.
Known as Curly Sue around here.”
huh? Well, she looks like a nice lady, so I guess she deserves our respect, don’t
you think, Jake?”
“Oh…oh my, no
disrespect intended Sir, I…I just thought you should know who she is…that’s
The stranger’s eyes
are like looking into twin gun barrels and Jake is a bit uncomfortable now. And
how did this man know his name? Jake was certain he never introduced himself.
Jake’s Adam’s apple slides up and down in his suddenly dry throat and the
stranger says, “Judge not, Jake, lest ye be judged. That’s in the Good Book, so
it’s good enough for me.” He turns and walks to the door, opens it, once more
ringing the bell, and steps out into the afternoon heat.
evening is coming on, Persephone is much more comfortable. She is at the livery stable,
where she has been fed and watered. Her saddle and bridle have been removed along with
the saddle blanket. She has been brushed down and curried and some burrs combed
out of her mane and fetlocks. Some ointment has been applied to a couple of
sores caused by chafing of the saddle blanket, mostly due to sweating and
accumulation of dirt. She is in a relatively cool stall and the absence of the bothersome
flies is a blessing. She is standing with her knees locked and is dozing and dreaming away
the evening. Perse is content.
stranger is also content, having had a bath, a shave and a haircut. He is wearing a fresh
shirt and underwear and his suit has been cleaned and pressed. Now, as he walks the
length of Tinker’s Alley, he thinks about the only need he hasn’t satisfied. He
approaches the brothel and notes the elaborate, hand-painted sign over the
door. Professionally done, obviously by a talented artisan, it reads,
“Enchanted Evenings.” He nods his head and opens the door and steps inside.
woman who greets him is the same lady he saw at the apothecary shop, and she speaks to
him almost as an old friend. “Good evening, Sir. Welcome to Enchanted Evenings.”
evening to you…is it Susan, I believe?”
but how did you…oh, yes, of course. Jake, the druggist. I suppose my personal history
is now filed away in that handsome head of yours…”
at all, Susan, Jake merely told me your name and made me aware of your business location.
In case I should feel the need…well, you understand…”
“Of course, Sir. Please
come with me and you can look over our ladies and perhaps make a choice.” Susan
escorts the stranger out of the foyer and into a formal parlor, which the
stranger finds to be, like most brothels, overdecorated with overstuffed furniture,
lamps with chintzy shades and throw pillows. It contains at the moment, four scantily-dressed
women, three quite young and one older woman who could only be called plain. The stranger
makes his choice immediately, telling Susan, “That one, with the long blonde hair.”
yes, Madeline is one of our youngest and sweetest girls. And will this be for a short
encounter? Or maybe something longer?”
want her for all night. And a very private room, please.”
smiles and says, “Sir, that will cost twenty dollars in advance. If you choose you
may give the girl any gratuity you feel is appropriate later.”
stranger places a twenty-dollar gold piece in Susan’s outstretched palm and the young,
pretty Madeline joins him. She takes his arm and they head up stairs to a private
room. They step inside and Susan hears the door lock. She hears nothing else
for the rest of the evening.
the morning, the stranger leaves early and Madeline does not appear for some time, so after
a while, Susan goes up to the room. She uses her key to open the door and finds
Madeline sitting naked on the side of the bed. She appears at first glance to
be alive and well, but then as Susan draws closer, she sees that all is not
Madeline’s face is
completely slack, and her sightless eyes stare at the wall. The irises, once
such a pretty cornflower blue, are gone, replaced by whiteness. There appears
to be bruising about her mouth and on both sides of her throat, right where the carotid
arteries run just beneath the skin. Her breasts are reddened and swollen and her arms hang
Susan draws closer still and detects
the faint but unmistakable odor of burnt hair. She observes reddening and swelling in Madeline’s
pubic area and that all her pubic hair appears to have been singed away.
God! Maddie! What did he do to you?” Susan cries.
slowly turns her head toward the sound of Susan’s voice and slowly, ever so slowly,
a smile spreads across her face.
He did…everything,” she says.
do you mean, ‘everything’, Maddie? You have been well-trained in the skills
of your trade, there should be nothing a man could teach you…
no Susan…he took me to places I’ve never been. He gave me so much…of
himself. He knew things about me. Things about my family and my life. Things I didn’t
even know. And he…loved me. He didn’t just rut…like, like an animal
or like most men. He took time…to pleasure me.”
paces about the room, concerned over the condition of her employee, already wondering what
she’ll ever do with a blind whore. She notices water in the basin on the
washstand. The water is bloody and next to the basin, lays a single, slightly
“So, he knocked out
one of your teeth, too?”
“Oh, no, that tooth
is his. He had me pull it. I did it with my fingers…”
can’t pull a tooth with just your fingers, Maddie.”
know, but I did. He told me I could do it and I did. I just grabbed it and popped it right
out. And I took away his pain…”
get you downstairs and get you cleaned up,” Susan says, “take my arm, Dear.”
Susan leads Madeline to the door and downstairs to the girls’ common area. The other
girls are afraid when they see Madeline, but Susan hushes them and sends them
to their rooms.
Later in the day,
the stranger returns to Enchanted Evenings. Susan tells him if he does not
leave, she will call the sheriff, but the stranger walks right past her and
finds Madeline, sitting by herself, awaiting whatever comes next in her life. What comes
next in her life is the stranger, who bends down close to her ear and tells her his name.
He invites her to leave the brothel and travel with him and she does not hesitate to say
yes. They leave together.
canters across open prairie, headed north. It is spring and the wildflowers are just
beginning to bloom. She senses that the Man is in a good mood this morning and
his mood governs hers. Once more she and the Man travel and she would have it
no other way. On her back, seated in front of the Man, the Woman rides as if
she was born to the saddle.
man whispers to her as they ride. One of the things
he tells her is, “Next time we stop, we’ll have to fix those eyes.”
Kenneth James Crist
snorted, as she reached the top of the hill, then blew her hot breath out from her
mouth, making her lips vibrate. She was hot and tired and she could smell
water. She was carrying two people, neither of them particularly heavy, but she
was a rather smallish dapple-gray mare and the extra weight was beginning to
take its toll.
Ahead, there was a
small creek, and the cottonwoods would provide some shade. The man heeled her
lightly, urging her in that direction, roughly north and Perse picked her way down.
She had learned to avoid prairie dog holes and snakes and her owner let her find her own
way much of the time.
The second person
she carried was a blind woman they had picked up in Dodge City two days prior.
They had camped the night before and the man had hobbled the mare and let her graze,
but she hadn’t had enough water.
Minutes later, they
reached the stream and both riders dismounted. Perse wanted to get to the
water, but the man held her back long enough to slip on the hobbles. He didn’t
understand that she would never leave him. She was in love with him—as much as
an animal could love a human— and she would gladly die at his hand rather than
leave him. She was aware in a vague way that the relationship had changed somewhat,
now that the woman was with them.
The man walked her
carefully to the sweet, clear water and let her drink, watching her closely. He
would stop her soon and set her to grazing, not letting her drink too much.
Later, before they moved on, he would water her again.
After Perse was
grazing comfortably the man took the smallish, blonde woman off into a grove of
trees. There, he undressed her and they made love and when they were finished,
while he was still on top of her, he pressed his lips to each of her eyes, touching
the eyelids with his tongue, and when they got back up from their tryst, her sight was
restored. When they were dressed, he carefully wiped tears from her eyes and kissed her
again, relishing the taste of her mouth and also her salty tears.
did you blind me?” She asked, her voice breaking just a bit with her emotion.
“Most people never
think about their sight and what a blessing it is to see. You will always know,
for the rest of your life, how lucky you are to have the gift of sight. You’ll
appreciate it more. It’s good to know despair and then to be restored…”
your name?” Her head was cocked to one side and for a moment he was reminded of
a small bird. Her rather sharp nose even sort of resembled a beak.
told you that before we left Dodge. I expect you may have been addled somewhat over losin’
yer sight. It’s John Cook.”
do you come from, John Cook?”
not sure. I remember living in lots of places, some back east, but I cannot remember my
own childhood, or my parents. Sometimes it’s as if I was just…born an adult.”
John Cook was not
his real name, but one he had chosen because it was short, just four letters to
surname and given name, easy to remember and just as easy for others to forget.
The woman, Madeline, was a prostitute he’d taken with him from a brothel in Dodge
City, Kansas. He was a man with no job, no discernable past and no foreseeable
future. He was just here, at any given time a presence to be reckoned with by
those who let greed and avarice and plain orneriness govern their lives. John Cook was
a Regulator, in every sense of the word, unconcerned with the laws of man or the lawlessness
he encountered all too often, but very concerned with right and wrong and justice on a
He carried a matched
pair of Colt dragoons, older, black-powder weapons, much heavier, clumsier and
primitive than later models, but they suited him and his methods. He wore them backwards
in matched holsters mounted on crossed belts. They were never out of his reach and always
fully loaded. In his saddlebags, he carried spare cylinders, also fully loaded, that could
be changed out in a few moments, should he come under sustained fire from an enemy. In
a saddle scabbard he carried a Henry lever-action rifle, for times when situations became
In spite of the weaponry
and his attire, which consisted of black semi-formal clothing, John Cook was a
peaceable man. He never went looking for trouble, but it had a troubling way of
finding him. He had lost track of how many men he had killed and that fact in
no way grieved him any more than a more ordinary person would grieve over killing
“I think we’ll make camp
here tonight,” he told Madeline, “it’s as good a place as any and my horse
is tired. Carrying two people is tough on her.”
They built a small
fire, using dry sticks that would make little smoke. This was still territory
on which native tribes roamed—not all of them had been placed on reservations.
John Cook usually had little trouble with them. He had learned a number of
dialects and the mere fact he was willing to do that gained him some modicum of respect
in most encounters. He had much more trouble with white men.
cut up some bacon which in another day or so would go rancid anyway. They ate that along
with some hardtack biscuits and coffee. It was meager rations, but the best
they could do with what they had. Later, after the stars came out, they made
love again and then John Cook took Persephone back down to the water.
When he returned to their bedroll, Madeline
was asleep. He settled in and was just dropping off when he heard a sound that was very
familiar to him. It was sort of like the sound of trickling water and a hard wind combined.
He quickly got up and moved away, buckling on his guns and grabbing his hat. The sound
was not loud enough to spook his horse or to wake Madeline, but he knew well what it meant,
and he felt adrenaline begin to kick in.
hundred yards away, a shaft of cool blue light pulsed straight down from above. Its source
was too bright to look directly at. He hurried along as quickly as he could in
western riding boots combined with the aches and pains of an older man. When he
reached the blue light, he did not hesitate at all. He took off his hat and
stepped straight into the beam. He faded to transparency and the blue light snapped
off. The only sound then was crickets. Persephone had raised her head at the sound of the
beam and then continued grazing. She had seen it all before and she knew the man would
return, sometimes in minutes, often in mere seconds…
highway bustled with shiny automobiles, their lights bright in the darkness, a white river
flowing one way and a red river flowing the other. John Cook stood in a large
area that was painted with stripes and had a few of the metal machines parked
in it. He had moved forward and back in the timestream so many times, he had
learned to observe and learn without wasting time on curiosity.
he was being transported, he was given orders and now he acted quickly. From his
instructions, he knew it would be a near thing. He had been told of the
importance of saving one particular person, a girl who had already been killed
further down the time-stream. He had been inserted at just the right time to save
He stepped off in the direction of the
brightly lighted convenience store across the street. He remembered to walk to the corner
and wait for the signal and then use the crosswalk. His attire caused a few heads to turn,
but not as many as might have been expected. He wasn’t sure of the date, but he knew
for sure the location. He was in Las Vegas, Nevada.
went directly to the front of the store and pushed open the door and stepped inside. His
advisor had told him there would be two of them and had given descriptions. It would
not have been necessary, he could see now. Both individuals were hooded and
masked and were none too clean. Everyone else in the store was lying on the
floor. The larger of the two was intent at that moment on intimidating the clerk,
yelling for him to open the safe. The smaller robber was more interested in a rather smallish
girl, who was sobbing on the floor. He was standing over her, a small black revolver in
his hand, practically drooling. John Cook had to admit, she was a cute gal. But he didn’t
have time to really check her out. It was time to go to work. He stepped to his left and
drew one of the Colts.
First things first,
he decided. He cocked the dragoon and fired a quick snap shot that caught the
robber at the counter at an angle, the heavy slug entering just below his right
shoulder blade and exiting to the left of his left nipple, taking out the heart
and both lungs, and knocking him off his feet and landing him in a rack of magazines.
He was dead before his blood soaked a current copy of something called “People.”
second thug froze for just an instant, trying to figure out where the shot had come from
and which way he should run. He fancied himself a lover, rather than a fighter
and he had only come along on this caper because his bro had made it sound so
easy. His hesitation gave John Cook plenty of time to cock the dragoon and
bring his sights to bear. The shot took the entire top off the second guy’s
head, a shower of blood and brains spattering everything within eight feet. It took the
thug a second and a half to fall to the floor. He landed half atop the girl he had been
dreaming about raping seconds before. Her sobbing turned to screaming in record time.
solved. John Cook stepped back out the door and walked unhurriedly to the alley just next
door. He walked into the alley and directly to the circle of blue light beaming
down. As he stepped into the beam, he holstered the Colt and removed his hat.
There was the usual jolt and feeling of falling and then crickets. Fifty feet
away, Persephone had stopped grazing and was standing, her knees locked, sound
In Las Vegas, a
hundred and two years later, detectives would work a double homicide of two gangbangers
who were killed while robbing a 7-11 store by an unknown man in a cowboy suit, armed with
black powder pistols. Several descriptions came in from witnesses who had seen him just
before the shit went down, but no leads were ever developed, and the Las Vegas dicks didn’t
put a shitload of effort into it anyway. They figured two less thugs pulling robberies
was a good deal and they moved on to more current crimes with better “solvability
John Cook changed
out the cylinder in his recently-fired Dragoon. He would reload the two fired
chambers later when convenient. He slid in next to Madeline and was asleep in minutes.
# # #
left early in the morning before sunup and had made seven or eight miles, when Perse lifted
her head and chuffed. She was ready to whinny and the man knew it and said, “Silencio,
por favor…” He seldom spoke Spanish to her, but when he did, she knew he
was serious and besides, she could smell the tension in him. She could also
smell other horses.
The man guided her
off to their right and toward a small stream where there were some willows that
would give some concealment. He moved Perse down into the creek and the
coolness of the water felt good on her feet. He had the woman dismount and he gave
her one of his revolvers and sent her further north, telling her to keep low and if he
was killed, she should hide. He didn’t need to tell her what the gun was for.
Soon a single rider came into view, riding
one horse and leading another. The rider was an Indian brave who looked to be about twenty-eight
to thirty years old. The man stayed hidden, but the warrior continued his approach, holding
his hands out to show they were empty. Finally, he stopped directly in front of the spot
where Perse and John Cook were concealed.
quietly spoke from his mounted position. “Hau, white man.”
John Cook stepped farther up the bank
and said, “What do you want?”
“You need horse? For
not trade the woman, no.”
“White man…you need horse
for her to ride.”
“What do you want?”
“You have wit-ski?”
Yes, I have some…”
have wit-ski, I have horse.”
did you get that horse?” John Cook was looking it over closely. It was nothing special.
Not an Indian pony, but a well-used nag, what was commonly called a bucket-head. It
wasn’t much but it would do…
horse from white man,” the brave said, noncommittally.
you kill a white man for it?” John Cook’s revolver was in his hand, tucked
behind his back.
No kill. Count coup and take horse. White man too scared to fight.”
John Cook stepped over to Persephone
and opened a saddlebag and withdrew a bottle of rye whisky. It was cheap, rotgut stuff
he only carried in case of snakebite. So cheap it didn’t even bear a label. He stepped
up the bank and held out the bottle for the brave’s inspection.
“I taste,” the brave said,
and got down from his pony. He’d been fooled before by unscrupulous white men. Cook
handed over the bottle. The brave pulled the cork and smelled, then tasted the raw contents.
Satisfied, he corked the bottle and untied the second horse, handing the reins to Cook.
Cook stepped back and the brave mounted
and rode away, without another word. Cook whistled and a few moments later, Madeline appeared.
“We’ve got to move now. He’ll be back with more braves and try to kill
us. He knows now we’re alone. The trade was too easy. He’ll want to take back
the horse and whatever else we have. And he’ll want to take you, too.” He helped
her up onto the other horse, which had no saddle and they headed out, moving on north at
a quick pace.
Perse was glad to
carry only John Cook, but she could feel and smell his tension. She knew the
incident was not over.
They rode on
northward until dark, John Cook keeping an eye out, looking back often and
checking their flanks. After dark, he found a place not far from water and there
were two huge fallen cottonwood trees. Cottonwoods were not good for lumber or much else,
he reflected, but they would stop bullets. He put the horses in between the fallen trees
and gave Madeline a revolver. He got out his rifle and told her, “Don’t trust
your hearing. They’re very quiet and stealthy. Anything you see, if it doesn’t
call you by name, shoot it.” He then slipped away into the dark. For her own safety,
Madeline stood between the horses. Her eyesight had actually improved since Cook had blinded
her, then restored her sight.
hour went by and then the moon came up, its orange orb lighting the area quite clearly.
Minutes later, Madeline heard a bird call, then another. She was not fooled. This was
the Kansas prairie. Birds didn’t have shit to say after dark. The brave and his
friends were moving in.
saw the first brave, on foot, as he moved across the moon. A classic mistake, perhaps meant
to cause her to shoot and give away her position. In a second, there was the
crack of a rifle shot and a breathy scream as the brave went down. Then, a
second shot whizzed by her head and thudded into the body of another brave, one
she had not seen or heard approaching. It was at that point Madeline realized Cook
was using her and the horses for bait.
She dropped down to
her knees and cocked the huge, clumsy revolver. Two more shots and more cries
as more braves went down. Then, an arm slid around her from behind, a hand
caressed her breast and then moved to her mouth to keep her still.
Casually, almost without thinking, she
brought the revolver up under the brave’s chin and squeezed the trigger. The shot
deafened her for a moment and a splash of blood and brains soiled her hair and dress. The
man fell behind her and she scuttled away into the dark. The horses were agitated by the
gunfire, and she narrowly missed getting stepped on.
Coming in!” Cook eased up to her in the dark and she could also hear the gallop of
hooves moving rapidly away.
it over?” There was a shuddery quality to her voice.
Cook said, “but we’d better move anyway.” They quickly watered the horses
from a small pool nearby and mounted back up. They rode for an hour, then stopped and bedded
down without making a fire.
awoke to gunfire off in the distance to the east. The shots rolled and echoed, the
concussions could be felt as well as heard.
here. Keep that revolver ready. I’m going to check this out.” Cook mounted
Perse and moved off to the east. In about ten minutes there were two quick rifle shots
and soon he returned.
was that?” Madeline was merely curious, but Cook’s countenance was darker
than she’d ever seen him look.
hunters. I took care of it.” Madeline was afraid to ask any more, but he continued.
“Stupid bastards shoot the buffalo and cut out the tongues and strip the hides.
They leave everything else to rot out in the sun. They get a whole dollar for a
hide. Sons of bitches…”
what did you do…?”
They won’t be getting any more dollars…”
He shot her a ghastly smile and reloaded his rifle. “Let’s go. We’re
almost in Nebraska now. We’ll see the railroad tracks soon.”
it was four more hours before they found a few buildings and a single railroad track
that was being built, as a rip-roaring railroad camp moved with it. They had
reached McCook, Nebraska. As they clopped along down the single mud street,
John Cook observed several women in less-than-decent attire, watching him. He
also noted that Madeline had seen them, too.
Well, he thought, the
railroad is here, the whisky is here and the whores are here. What more could a
railroad crew ask for?
local hotel was a two-story, clapboard affair, the siding already warping from the cheap
green lumber used to hastily knock it together. John purchased a room and it was none
too clean and sparsely furnished. Madeline opted for a bath and he left to get
their horses settled at the livery across the way.
soon as he walked the horses up in front the livery man stepped out and gave him the evil-eye.
He was a grizzled old fart in a sweat-stained plaid shirt and leather apron. He
was missing a few teeth, but that wasn’t uncommon.
fuck you git that horse?”
horse would you be referring to, friend?” John Cook knew damned well which horse
the man was asking about.
fuckin’ roan right there. Where’d ya git it?”
“Why would that concern you, Mister?”
Cook was getting irritated.
“Cuz I know’d the
got-damned owner, that’s why.”
traded an Indian a bottle of whiskey for him, yesterday afternoon.”
“Man that owned that horse was
found dead day before yesterday on the tracks, ‘bout six mile up that way.”
He nodded toward the east and spat tobacco juice into the dust, narrowly missing Cook’s
“Don’t know anything
about that, friend. I told you where I got him.”
wonderin’ if you ain’t a got-damn liar.
And a horse thief…”
stare was now levelled at the livery owner like two gun barrels.
“Ya know what we do to horse thieves
Cook’s Colt revolver
was suddenly in his hand, cocked and stuck under the man’s chin, pointed
roughly toward his Adam’s apple. “No, tell me, friend. What do you do to horse
The man’s voice
seemed to have suddenly left him and he stared into John Cook’s eyes. Cook
said, “I’m not a thief. Of any kind. And I don’t lie. Did the man leave a
“Y-yes. Yes, he
“You’ll take the
horse then and sell it and give the money to his widow. I’ll buy another horse
from you, if you have stock to sell. Do we have a deal?”
Yes. Yessir. We have a deal.” The Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. As quickly
as it had appeared, the Colt went back to sleep in its holster.
Cook handed over the reins of both horses
and said quietly, “Good. We’ll settle up in the morning then.”
liveryman watched the smallish man stroll back across the street and shivered slightly
in the afternoon sun. He had felt a goose walk over his grave.
all started with bird feeders. And guilt. Squirrels came later, but not much later. They’re
opportunistic fuckers, squirrels. Later, I even had some turkeys. Yeah, really.
Wild turkeys, flyin’ right into my back yard to clean up what was left on the
ground. Five hens, two jakes and a big old tom. A jake? That’s what they call a
younger tom. They look just like a hen, but they have that beard thing hangin’
The guilt? Well,
sometimes when ya get older, things you did thoughtlessly in your youth will
come back and start to bother ya. That’s the way it was with me. When I was
just a brat, growin’ up on the farm, kids all had BB guns. Then later on, we
all had rifles. Shotguns. And we hunted. Always ate what we killed, so that was alright.
Except for when we were little and got that first Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. Then we shot
at anything and everything. And there were a lot of birds around.
starlings, crows, pigeons, I didn’t care. I shot ‘em all. Shot ‘em by
the goddamn truckload. Shot a lotta rats, too, but there’s no guilt there. Gotta
keep the rats down when you live on a farm. Otherwise, they’ll just about take over.
But the birds? Hell, they weren’t hurtin’ a damn thing. They were just targets.
Never thought shit about it at the time. They were just something to shoot.
Never thought about how they might have had nests, with babies they wouldn’t be
coming back to feed.
So, yeah, guilt. I
decided maybe I could adjust things a little, maybe swing the compass needle of
Karma a little more in my favor. So, I put out bird feeders and birdbaths in
the back yard. I’d get through a hundred and fifty pounds of seed a month. The
squirrels showed up right away. I didn’t try to run ‘em off, I just put the
food out and let nature take its course. Never thought much about what else I might
have been attractin’, either. That would come later.
I guess I fed
nature’s critters for a couple years before things started gettin’ a little
strange. And, at first, that’s all I could say. A little strange. Like in the
spring of this year, I had as many as eight or nine squirrels out there at a
time, quarreling over the sunflower seed. Then, within a week, there were none.
Didn’t see any for almost a month. At the time, I figured there was just too much
natural food out there and they’d be back when fall came and crops started dying
back and harvest was in. Now, I know better. Couple weeks ago, I started seeing squirrels
again, but they were not full-grown. They were the offspring of the adults I’d fed
before, most likely.
Then I started
seeing a lot less activity around the regular feeders, too. Instead of going through
two feeders full every day, suddenly it was down to one every three days. The birds were
a lot spookier, too. Time was I could sit out on the sunporch and watch them for hours.
Then, within a very short time period, they got weird. Now, if I so much as crack open
the screen door, they’re gone. I began to wonder what was going on. I made some assumptions,
based on ordinary logic.
I assumed, first of
all, that some predator was taking the squirrels and birds. I had seen nothing
to indicate this, other than the rapid decline in the population. I had seen no
hawks or any other predators hanging around in the daytime, so I had to conclude
something was happening at night. Being both curious and retired, I decided to find out
what was going on. After all, I had time on my hands. I went to a local sporting goods
store and bought myself a trail camera.
thing cost seventy-nine bucks and, for that price it was a bargain. It was battery powered
and fully automatic and it used an infrared flash. It would take decent
pictures in total darkness and record them on a computer chip, which could be
downloaded into my laptop. It came with various nylon straps and fittings, so
it could be fastened to a tree and left to do its thing.
There was a period
of about a month, when I got pictures of opossums and raccoons and the
occasional field rat, coming around to clean up what the birds and squirrels
had missed. And then, they too began to disappear. And, last Wednesday night, I got the
first hint of what I was dealing with.
There were three
shots in rapid sequence, I would assume as fast as the camera could cycle. In
the first, a raccoon is under the center of my three feeders, caught by the
camera with a handful of seed. It is also turning its head, and its mouth is open in
the beginning of a snarl. The second shot shows a blur of something moving with such speed
and agility that the lens and shutter speed cannot match it. There is the impression of
a rounded something, maybe an abdomen, maybe
not, and what could be legs…but if they are legs, there are way too many of them…and
in the last shot, both the raccoon and whatever got it are gone. Nothing to see here, folks,
just move along…
nothing. Not a single frame of anything, weird or common. Friday night, ditto.
Last night, there was one shot, again, blurry and indistinct to be sure, but
still there and very close to the camera. So close, in fact, that only the shape of
something across the lens can be seen. It’s black and spindly and a bit shiny and
it looks like it has spiky hairs all over it. I know it can’t be what it appears
to be…but then the camera itself was smashed and chewed by something, its tough plastic
case split and ruined, the nylon straps torn like so much tissue paper. I managed to save
the memory chip.
So, this morning I
decided to just say the hell with this and leave. I live here alone, and it’s
twenty-two miles to town. I packed some stuff for hotel/motel survival and climbed
into my pickup, and of course it wouldn’t start. I picked up the hood and found that
something had stripped all the wiring out of the engine compartment. Having it rewired
would cost more than the old truck is worth.
went back to the house and picked up the phone, intending to call a friend, and it was
dead, too. Outside, the phone lines were ripped off the wall and mangled, just like
the trail camera. So, I can hike or I can stay and fight.
I said, I live alone, and for that I am glad. I will face whatever it is, whenever it comes,
by myself. And it will come. Because it now knows that I am aware of it. And it
is hungry. Ever so hungry. I have weapons to defend myself and I am a good
shot. But I have seen its incredible speed and its power…and what if there’s
more than one?
It’s about forty
minutes past sunset and I have barricaded everything I can. The lights are all on
throughout the house but a few minutes ago, they flickered. I know it likes the darkness
and I’m really worried about the service entry cable from the pole to the house…
James Crist is Editor of Black Petals Magazine and is on staff
at Yellow Mama ezine. He has been a published writer since 1998, having had
almost two hundred short stories and poems in venues ranging from Dark Dossier
and The Edge-Tales of Suspense to Kudzu Monthly. He has several books in print,
Jariah and the Big Green Booger, and What Really Lives in Loch Ness, both children’s books,
and Groaning for Burial, a book of zombie stories, plus A Motorcycle Cop’s
Motorcycle Manual, all available through Amazon.
He reads everything he can get his hands on, not just
in horror or sci-fi, but in mystery, hardboiled, biographies, westerns and adventure tales.
He retired from the Wichita, Kansas police department in 1992 and from the
security department at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita in 2016. Now 77, he is
an avid motorcyclist and handgun shooter. He is active in the American Legion
Riders and the Patriot Guard, helping to honor and look after our military. He is
the owner of Fossil Publications, a desktop publishing venture that seems incapable of
making any money at all. On June the ninth, 2018, he did his first (and last) parachute
jump and crossed that shit off his bucket list.