A short story, after a long hiatus. More comedy later in the week.
Danny was clicking the can of Tab with pinging thumps. Empty. The beating of my heart. I had been trying to drown out the sound by focusing my mind elsewhere; running water, crickets, leaves flapping against each other, the inward swell of air. The day was hot and had that sound like a long hum, low and oozing.
“When’s he getting back, dipshit?”
“Don’t know.” Danny said. He kept tapping on the can.
Danny’s brother, Robbie, had a way of taking care of things. Danny and I had been sitting in the woods for nearly two hours. We talked very little.
“You don’t need to worry about Robbie. He’s good people. Tight-lipped. “
Danny said that to break the awkwardness between us but all it did was make me more nervous, more aware of the awkwardness. He threw the can with the other litterings, letting it clang with the trash, the old mufflers, the mounds of shit piled like ruins. He stood up and shielded his eyes from the sun.
“Hot as a bitch.”
“Yeah.” I said, not really wanting to answer but feeling compelled to. Just to say something. To convince myself that this is what people do when guys are bleeding just a few feet away. They talk about the weather. They sweat. I tried not to pay much attention to our friend leaning against the silo.
“Pussy over there,” Danny said, waving his finger at our friend, “had it comin’.”
Maybe he did. I didn’t know the details and I didn’t need to know them. Danny spit into the grass, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and walked over to me.
“We could finish this, you know. No need bringing new blood into this.”
“I don’t want to finish this.” I said. ”This isn’t mine to take care of.”
Danny looked at our friend again with a careful look, narrowing his eyes and relaxing his mouth to speak but changing his train of thought.
“You’re in it now, partner.”
I knew I was in it, more than I cared to be, and I had no choice but to wait it out. Our friend had done something bad to Robbie and Danny’s sister, apparently. He’d taken advantage of her. We knew what that meant. It was rumor, though, something you can’t take for whole truth, something that people talk about because they don’t have anything else. I didn’t think it was worth killing someone over but Robbie and Danny had too much pride to let something like that slink off. Too much pride for most things. I’d be lying if I thought we were coming out here to talk like diplomats but I just didn’t think it would go wrong, not until I saw Danny knife him in the side. The blood was a thick black now. Syrupy. Tacky.
In the distance I could hear footsteps in the brush. Robbie and two guys I didn’t know came.
“He still alive?”
“Think so,” Danny said, “haven’t checked in awhile.”
Robbie was tall and lean with a long chin. He had blond hair like Kansas straw that hung in his face and my sister had been writing his name in notebooks for years. He had the look of someone famous and pristine. He had a face that hid everything dark. It was face that belonged to someone you’d never know.
Robbie walked over to our friend and crouched down real low. His shoulders rippled as the shirt grew tight on his back. You can’t keep girls from liking shit like that.
“You awake, fucker?”
Yeah, our friend said. It was more like a drawl. He didn’t look Robbie in the face, just kept looking at his feet.
“Well, I’m not gonna kill ya. I know you’ve been waiting to here that.”
Robbie got up and walked to one of the guys and whispered something. They both walked over to our friend and pulled him up. They put his hands behind his back and held his shoulders tight. The blood that had turned to molasses on his shirt stayed put. Right after that I saw Danny, who had been pretty quiet since Robbie arrived, grab a long pipe and smash it against our friend’s right knee, then the left. A quick one two. I flinched and the guy dropped like a sack.
Robbie just stood there looking down at him, his hands clenched and jaw held tight.
“You deserve worse, river rat.” he said. Our friend’s face was swollen and he jerked between screams that made my skin feel cold like it wasn’t mine. Like they were coming from someone else, or maybe I was just reading words, or just remembering something far off. I tried to figure out how far I’d be able to get before they finally caught up to me. How long could I run? Would I just have to keep running, going somewhere farther and farther into the distance that never got close? Would it even matter, in the end, if they got me now or later? I’m in it, partner.
Robbie bent down and used his hand to wipe the hair from his face, tossing his head to the side. Gallant.
“I don’t think you’re gonna get far, and I’d be damn surprised if you live tonight after the coyotes come after you. Or whatever the fuck else lives out here.”
He buried his head in the wet ground and let out a couple of clucking sounds. A boy attempt at not crying. He was mouthing words we couldn’t hear. In my brain, I was asking him not to beg. And for God’s sake, don’t remember my face if you get through this. Please don’t.
Robbie continued on, annoyed, fidgety.
“I could handle you being trash. Not my place, you see. I could handle your fucking games. I can handle bellyachin’ and bullshit. But you’re not gonna play with what I have. I’m gonna make an example of you, something even shits like you can understand. The only thing that even matters.”
He kicked him in the side and the sound made a crack like old wood. A snap. It was a familiar sound that made me think of innocent things – chopping, tree houses, winter. Our friend tensed and let out a scream that was being choked like a weight was crushing him from the inside. Robbie got down on his knees and crouched over him, his hair hanging down, his hands braced and deep in the dirt, his mouth inches from his ear.
A secret being shared.