Ned Watkins stared up from the ground, blood leaked from his mouth. He held his hands up to shield his face from more blows.
“Please,” he pleaded, “please, I remembered where they are. I’ll tell you what you wanted to know, just don’t kill me.”
Warren Fredericks stood over Ned. He swung the heavy, bloody chain around his left hand and smiled.
“You’ll tell me regardless, and you’d better not lie to me.”
“Just don’t kill me. I have a wife and children at home.”
“You should have thought of them before you and your homies decided to kill my friend.”
“They’re up in the mountains, they’ve a small cabin out near Widows Leap. You’re not going to kill me, right? Think of my children.”
“I am,” Warren said. He pulled his sidearm and shot Watkins in the face twice. “Why do they always spout off about the children? Like they care about innocent life. These same people wouldn’t help their neighbor or the homeless kids in major cities. He got what he deserved.”
Warren walked to his red Dodge Ram and took out his pick and shovel. He busted the hard rock into a man-sized hole and kicked Watkins body into it. He tossed in the chain and gun as well, then he covered up the body.
“One down, many more to go.”
He sat on the flatbed body and sipped some water. His hunt for Jacob’s killers led him to Ned Watkins. “None of this should’ve happened. Jacob was undeserving of death. They shouldn’t have raped his wife. Now, all I have left is revenge. Justice must prevail, whether the law wants to do its job or not.”
The law had failed to bring Jacob’s killers to justice. By God, Warren would not fail. He might fall, but he would not fail. He finished off his water and climbed into his truck. The old diesel engine rumbled to life, and Warren started back to town.
Thirty-five years ago:
“Welcome to first grade, kids. I am Mrs. Bird. Please take a seat and let me have your attention. I book no nonsense in my classroom. You see this ruler,” she held up a wooden ruler and showed the class, “if you disrupt my class, you will feel it on your palm. Understood?”
All the children nodded and muttered “yes ma’am.” Mrs. Bird turned to write on the chalkboard. Warren turned and stared at the boy next to him.
“She looks like a bird,” he said to the boy. The boy smiled and nodded.
“Uh-huh. Like a chicken.”
Warren clucked like a chicken. It came out a little louder than he or the boy expected. Warren’s face flushed red when Mrs. Bird turned and looked at the class. She picked up the ruler.
“Who did that?”
No one said a word. She walked to Warren’s desk and smacked the ruler down on the desktop. Warren looked at the floor.
“No one did it, hmmm? A chicken flew in here and clucked. Is that what you expected me to believe?”
The room was quiet. She turned and leaned down to Warren. “It was you, wasn’t it?”
“Wow. You’re just like your father. He was a waste of oxygen. I see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Step up to my desk. Let’s see if we can’t cure that braveness of yours.”
Jacob watched as Mrs. Bird spoke to Warren. He was close enough to hear what was said. He raised his hand. Warren looked at him and shook his head no. Jacob put down his hand. Warren walked up to the desk and stood in front of his teacher.
“Give me your hand, cretin.”
Warren stuck out his hand, Mrs. Bird gripped his fingers and smacked the ruler against it until it filled with blood. The pain brought tears to his eyes, but Warren never cried out. His defiance seemed to enrage Mrs. Bird.
“Go sit down.”
He turned and walked back to his desk. His palm throbbed but he hadn’t cried out. He sat in his seat and noticed a note on his desk. Warren took it and stuck it in his pocket. The bell rang.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, children. You too, cretin.”
Warren smiled as he remembered his first day of school. He never stood out among his peers, but he wasn’t stupid. He was lazy. Warren never applied himself to his studies. Sure, he liked to read, math was okay if it was simple. He even journaled. His problem, if he had a problem, was distraction.
He drove into town. Monolith Springs, a town of 150,000 souls, was a den of thievery, villainy, and scumbags. Some good people lived here too. It was a haven for outlaws, wannabe rednecks, and racists of all stripes.
“Jacob never fit in here. He was too good for Monolith Springs.”
Abby Windsor, mayor of Monolith Springs, glared at the woman sitting across from her. Her companion, Judith Blue, was the elected representative. Judith stared calmly at the scowling mayor.
“What do you mean there is to be a cease of our operations? We, that is you and I, have planned this operation with the kind of people who will not here this. You know the consequences of not following through.”
Judith shrugged. “Fine. You carry out the operation, I’m done. Give my regards to Carlos and his family. I am washing my hands of it.”
“I’ll look for you in the obituaries.”
Judith got up and left. The mood had soured between the two women. Once upon a time, both women had been close friends. Now, they should consider each other rivals. Abby stood and smoothed her pantsuit. She walked to the mirror and checked her appearance. “As beautiful as always.” Of course, all the beauty in the world can’t disguise an ugly heart.
Across town, Warren drove to his and Jacob’s favorite restaurant, Sparky’s Pub. The bartender was behind the counter, his name was Wayne-something-another. He had the kind of face like an actor that you’ve seen something a thousand times, but you can’t remember his name. He gave Warren a nod. The hostess met him and led him to the corner table.
His waitress, a cute blonde named Linda, walked up.
“What can I getcha, darling?”
“What’s the special?”
“Hamburger steak with onions, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, and green beans.”
“Sounds good. I’ll take water to drink.”
“Sure thing, doll.”
Warren ate his meal and left Sparky’s Pub. His day was complete, nothing was left for him to accomplish. He climbed in his truck and headed toward home.
Warren Fredericks pulled up in his driveway. After disposing of Ned Watkins, Warren’s memories of Jacob played through his mind. Both he and Jacob survived mean Mrs. Bird’s class. Both had moved on to the next grade.
At the age of 14, Warren’s father moved them to Colorado Springs. His dad worked for a defense contractor and was rarely home. Warren fell in with the wrong crowd.
Three days prior to his 15th birthday, Warren was arrested for stealing his principal’s 1963 Corvette and going for a joyride. He was promptly dropped into the local juvenile detention center. It did not help that he was high on cocaine at the time of his joyride.
At 17, he was arrested for knocking over a drugstore. Due to his previous arrest, the prosecuting attorney declared he had set a pattern of misconduct and was in fact a habitual criminal. It was decided to wait until he turned18 to hold his trial and try him as an adult.
At his trial the judge gave him a choice. “Jail or the military,” the judge said. Warren chose the service. He reported to the training base on a cold November day.
Warren found his niche in the military. The structured days and events, along with rifle training, appealed to his nature. By age 20, he was a squad leader in the most prolific reconnaissance unit in modern military history.
While drilling his soldiers on the finer points of advanced marksmanship, his phone rang. He looked at his mobile after the soldiers placed their weapons down on the sandbags and took three steps back.
“This is Sgt Watkins from in-processing. You have a new soldier here. You need to pick him up.”
Warren frowned. He had not been informed of a new incoming soldier. He made the soldiers clear their weapons and return them to the arms room. Then, he dismissed them for lunch.
He drove to Battalion Headquarters and walked to the end of the long hall. In-processing worked out of the same office as the other staff department heads.
Watkins nodded when he walked in. The new soldier stood with his back facing Warren.
“Here you go, Fredericks. Your new soldier is processed, here is his file. He’s good to go.”
The soldier turned and faced Warren. A broad smile crossed his face. Warren grinned.
“I’ll be danged,” Warren said. Jacob nodded and embraced his friend. Watkins looked on.
“Look at you! It’s been years,” Warren said. From that day going forward, Warren and Jacob were inseparable. Warren stood beside Jacob on his wedding day. He was there for the birth of Jacob and Whitney’s child, and for the burial of the same.
Warren had nine deployments under his belt and was looking for another. Jacob did a total of five. After his last campaign, Jacob left the service.
“I don’t recognize myself in the mirror, brother. Whitney gave me an ultimatum. Either get help or get lost.”
Warren took the news in stride. He knew the lost feeling that Jacob had described. He felt it himself many times. There was no one at Warren’s house to care enough to tell him to get out. Jacob had that going for him.
If Warren had the same thing, he would no doubt do the same. Still, it pained him to lose his friend after so many battles together. It was a snowy day in Colorado when Jacob and Whitney left. Jacob looked in the rearview mirror one last time at his friend. Warren held his arm up overhead until they disappeared.
Jacob’s words ran through his mind. “This ain’t goodbye brother, it’s I’ll see you later. We will stay in touch.”
He knew better. Some say that absence is the keystone to fondness. Warren never felt fonder of people when they left, he felt bitter. A small pang of bitterness nipped at his heart then, he felt it even now.
Warren sat on his makeshift porch and reminisced about Jacob and Whitney. He thought of Ned Watkins and his pleading. He cracked open a Mountain Dew Zero and took a sip.
Jacob hadn’t been just a friend; he was his brother. Warren would avenge his family. He had nothing left to lose.
Smiley Jack, aka Jackson Walker, sat in the back of The Howling Hollow and waited for Ned Watkins. At 5’9, a buck sixty, he did not strike those who didn’t know him as imposing. He seemed nice.
Those who knew him knew better. Smiley Jack was a former competitive fighter. His career came crashing down when he killed a man in the ring.
“Three minutes into the first round, Smiley Jack slammed Tate’s head into the wire cage. Blood slid down the right side of Tate’s face, his eyes glazed.
“Whatcha think about that Tater Bug?”
The ref was too slow to react to what happened next. Smiley Jack charged the helpless fighter and drove his knee under the chin of his opponent. The crack of Tate’s neck breaking sounded like a gunshot in the crowded stadium.”
Bob Walley, aka Hillbilly Bob, best friend of Smiley Jack, walked to where he sat. Smiley Jack wasn’t smiling.
“Where is Ned, Bob?”
“No one knows. He ain’t home, he ain’t at his usual haunts either.”
“I told him to do the family, and to lay low. He wasn’t supposed to disappear. Find him, Bob.”
Bob shrugged and tugged at his beard. Smiley Jack glared at him.
“Dude, there’s no blood, his house is not trashed. He probably went and drank himself into a stupor.”
Smiley Jack leaned forward; his eyes showed malice. Bob got quiet.
“They were supposed to take out the family. At no point were they supposed to rape the wife. Two to the chest, one to the head. That’s it. Ned Watkins and his pals took turns raping that woman, and now he is missing.”
“You go find the Sheriff. Don’t come back until you’ve found Ned. If the Sheriff bucks, you make him understand all that money I’ve paid him is for this type of crap. You find Watkin’s crew and bring them here.”
Hillbilly Bob nodded and walked away without saying anything. It was pointless trying to reason with Smiley Jack when he was like this. Besides, Jack was right. This whole situation could’ve been avoided if the assigned crew had done their jobs without taking liberties with the wife.
Bob motioned for three hulking thugs to join him, and they all piled into his truck. The big, black Ford rumbled to life. Bob pulled into traffic and started for The Ruddy Lady, or TRL as the locals know it.
The Ruddy Lady served as a two-bit whorehouse, but it was listed as an adult nightclub. Its only purpose was to build blackmail cases against the elites of Fredericksburg. Law enforcement types, judges, political figures, they all went to the Ruddy Lady to blow off steam.
Smiley Jack had files on all the who’s who in town. The girls that worked at the Ruddy Lady served as bait to entice the rich to let down their guard. Hidden cameras in the walls and ceilings did the rest.
Ned Watkins and his crew posed as ‘security’, when they were not called upon to dispose of those who crossed Smiley Jack. Bob pulled into the parking spot that had a sign on it that read ‘management.’ He and the boys unloaded and shouldered past the doorman.
Ned Watkins crew stood in the shadows watching the crowd, who in turn watched the girls. Several young women led older men back into the back rooms which were hidden by long red drapes. One of Watkins crew walked up and nodded at Bob.
“Hey Bob, what brought you out? Are you looking to wet your beak?”
“I don’t know. He hasn’t shown up yet. Probably just stuck in traffic or running late.”
“He ain’t home, idiot. We went there. His house is trashed….”
“Bob, that’s his usual house. Ned ain’t known for his house cleaning.”
Hillbilly Bob smiled and put his arm around the shoulders of the young man. With his right hand, Bob gripped his throat.
“Listen to me, idiot. I know you raped that wife. You and all your crew, including Watkins, took your liberty with her. Now, Watkins is missing. Nod your head. I want to know exactly what went down, time now.”
Bob released the man’s throat and open palmed slapped him. The young man coughed and gasped trying to get his breath back. Bob looked at his watch.
“We did the job. Popped the husband, but Ned said the wife was to pretty. She needed to be taught a lesson. So, we…”
“Un-huh. You took turns, what happened to Watkins?”
“I don’t know, Bob. We left after we killed the wife.”
“If Watkin’s ain’t home, and he ain’t here, where is he?”
“He’d be at his girl’s house.”
“And who is that, and where does she live?”
“Suzy. Her name is Suzy, she’s the girls house madam. They stay at the end of the dirt trail leading to Walter’s Leap.”
“If you see Watkins, he doesn’t go anywhere. You understand. He doesn’t go pee, he doesn’t ‘wet his beak.’ He stays right here.”
Bob motioned for his three men to follow him. He led them to a dark corner and looked at them.
“Stay here. If Watkins comes in, secure him. If any of these moron’s get out of line, crush ‘em. I’m going to Walter’s Leap. Call me on the cell if you need me.”
Bob walked out into the quiet night. He put his truck into gear and raced toward what he hoped would be answers.
When Hillbilly Bob got to Walter’s Leap, the Sheriff’s vehicle sat in a parking spot near the front door. Bob frowned. A military man from his youth, Bob respected law enforcement and the job they did. He hated corruption. How did he marry working for a criminal and his dislike of corrupt police? To Bob, he knew he worked for a criminal, and he would tell anyone that he was a crook, just an honest one. Corrupt cops on the other hand broke every oath they had sworn, and Bob could not stomach that.
He got out and walked into the house. Sheriff Salmon, he was known as Chubb, sat with a girl on each knee. He would bounce the girls and they threw their arms in the air and squealed, “wheee.” Salmon quit when he noticed Bob staring at him.
“Ahem. Excuse me, girls. Duty calls.”
Salmon walked over to Bob and stuck out his hand. Bob ignored it. He stared into the eyes of the Sheriff. Salmon looked at the floor.
“Having a good time, Sheriff?”
“Just taking a tiny break, Bob. Suzy got a new crop of young fillies in, and I thought I would check ‘em out.”
“Un-huh. Get on the road and find Ned Watkins.”
“Bob, that’s not my job.”
“Your job is to do whatever Smiley Jack tells you to do. He told me to remind you, if you decided to buck his orders.”
“There’s no need for that, Bob. I’ll get out there and look for the old boy.”
“You do that.”
Hillbilly Bob watched as the Sheriff sullenly walked out of the whorehouse. He waited to see if the Sheriff would come back in once he thought Bob had got a girl. He didn’t. Bob went off in search of Suzy.
He didn’t have to go far. On the couch, in the center of the room, sat a beautiful red-haired lady. Her skin was pale, her eyes a deep green. Bob stopped and stared at her. She looked at him, not in a lustful way, but in a way that sent shivers down Bob’s spine.
She knew what Bob was, and she was not afraid of him. He walked over and sat beside her.
“Yeah, I figured. I’m looking for Ned Watkins.”
“I haven’t seen him, Bob.”
“You’re his girl, aren’t you?”
Suzy turned to Bob, her green eyes pierced Bob’s. Her full lips pulled back into a snarky grin, as if to say, “yeah, right.”
“Do I strike you as the kind of woman who knocks boots with a louse like Ned Watkins?”
“I would hope not.”
“If you see him, would you have him call me at this number?”
Suzy looked at the card and then plucked it from Bob’s massive fingers.
“Thank you, Suzy.”
“You’re welcome, Bob.”
Halfway back to town Bob’s cellphone rang. It was Sheriff Salmon. Bob kept one eye on the road and pressed the green button on his screen.
“We’ve found Ned Watkins. You ain’t gonna like it.”
“He’s dead. Got himself shot in the head.”
“Fine. Do your job, keep us informed. Don’t make me come find you no more, or you’re going to get a bullet to the head. You dig?”
“Yeah, Bob. I got it.”
Bob drove back to town and walked into The Hollowing Hollow. Smiley Jack was leaned back into the thick, soft cushions of the couch. He smiled when he saw Bob.
“You find him?”
“Salmon did. Watkins is dead. Shot in the head.”
“Bob, who would shoot Watkins?”
“I would. Never did care that piece of garbage.”
“Did you shoot him, Bob?”
“Besides you, who would do it?”
“A family member, maybe. A friend. Someone who didn’t like Ned Watkins.”
“Find out who and give them the treatment they gave poor Ned.”
“And Bob, I never cared for Ned Watkins either. Still, he worked for me, so try to show a little sympathy, yeah?”
“Thank you, Bob.”
Apart from her job as the house madam for Smiley Jack’s house of ill repute, Suzy was friends with Warren Fredericks. After Sheriff Salmon and Hillbilly Bob had departed, she dialed Warren’s number.
“Hello,” Warren said gruffly. Suzy loved the rough growl of his voice. She smiled.
“Hey yourself, darling.”
“Suzy? Aren’t you at work?”
“Always. I live to work and live at work. I had a visit from Smiley Jack’s crew. You haven’t done anything that will have long-reaching effects on my business, have you?”
“Well, someone has. Jack’s enforcer was here. He practically threw the Sheriff out.”
“Hmm. Ain’t that something?”
“Yep. I’m sorry to hear about Jacob.”
“Yeah. He deserved better.”
“When are you coming to see me? New girls are in, and they’re looking for love.”
“Well, we’re all looking for something, I reckon.”
“That we are. Take care of yourself, Warren. Don’t be a stranger.”
Warren hung up the phone and leaned back in his recliner. “So, they’re looking for Ned Watkins. Time to make another one disappear but first…”
Old man Isiah Wagner had lived in Fredericksburg his whole life. At the height of its popularity, he was there. When the nuclear reactor had melted down, he helped rebuild. Throughout the years, Isiah had lifted those who were destitute. He had a secret though. Throughout the years he’d followed popular American writer Mark Twain’s advice: Buy land. They’re not making it anymore.”
Just shy of his 85th birthday, Isiah Wagner had accumulated 3,200 acres of land in and around Fredericksburg. A veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, he lived alone in a small cabin that languished near the main creek that flowed through the area.
He was sitting on the porch when Warren pulled into his yard. Isiah scratched his white beard that rested just above his belly button. He grinned. He’d had the beard since he was a young man. Besides his initial piece of property, willed to him by his father, the beard was the oldest thing he owned.
“Howdy, old timer.”
“Hey, young’un. I see you brought an envelope with you.”
Warren waved the manila envelope at the old man and sat on the edge of the porch. He handed Isiah the envelope.
Isiah opened the envelope and grinned as he poured the money out into his lap. His eyes lit up.
“You sure you don’t want to buy it all, son?”
“No sir. Just the thousand acres that borders on the marshlands.”
“You know that land ain’t no good for nothing, right? It’s too wet to grow anything, you can’t build nothing because the ground is so soggy.”
“Well, you gave me prime money for it. Far be it from me to tinkle on your dreams. As promised, here is the deed and bill of sale for your tax records.”
“I couldn’t help but notice, you didn’t put it in your name. Why not?”
“Because I bought it as a gift to my friend.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I hope they enjoy it.”
“I’m sure they will.”
The old man stuck out his hand, Warren gripped it firmly. Isiah nodded; Warren nodded back. The deal was done, Warren could now get to work.
It’s been said the best intentions paved the road to hell. Hillbilly Bob thought as he drove to the Sheriff’s office. Bob had never intended for anyone to get hurt. They had. He’d never thought he would be an enforcer for a criminal quasi-organization. He was.
At every important juncture of his life, his intentions went in the opposite direction of his hopes. At some point, Bob decided to let things happen, and said screw his intentions.
His mind was consumed by the thoughts of Suzy’s radiant beauty. He was so entranced that he missed the curve and drove his truck into the ditch. At 65 miles per hour, his sudden stop broke his windshield. The seatbelt tightened, and the air bags deployed. Shards of glass flew into the cab and tore into his face. His head banged off the windshield. Cut, bruised, and battered, he crawled from his cab and fell to his knees in the middle of the road.
Warren watched from the woods.
October 07, 2020:
Jacob sat on the couch and waited for his appointment with Smiley Jack. He detested himself for having to come here, to seek help from a criminal who had killed a man in the ring was a source of frustration, but he had no other option.
A tall, buxom blonde stepped into the room. She gave Jacob a professional smile. He nodded at her.
“Jacob? Jack will see you now. Please, follow me.”
She escorted him into a large, expensive looking room. Jack sat behind a desk, everything in the room was a testament to his affluence. The long-legged blonde led him to a chair.
“Have a seat, please.”
She wrinkled her nose in disgust at his words. Without another glance, she walked away in a huff. Jack stared at Jacob like a bloodthirsty wolf.
“How can I help you achieve your dreams, Jacob?”
Jacob shuddered. He fought the urge to get up and run out, but he forced himself to stay seated. If he was going to make a deal with the devil, he would have the courage to look him in the eye.
Smiley Jack was more than happy to ‘help’ my friend. My friend had died dealing with this devil. Jack’s goons helped themselves to my friend’s wife and daughter, and then showed them the tender mercies of death.
He would pay for his transgressions. An eye for an eye.
You know that saying about an eye for an eye leaves both people blind? Well, Warren Fredericks had never heard it before, and even if he had heard it, he would have dismissed it as some urban myth. Still, one must admire the ferocious tenacity he exhibited in carrying out his plans.
He watched Hillbilly Bob from the shadows of the wood line. Bob knelt in the middle of the road, bleeding from the accident he just had. He had one hand on his head, with his free hand he patted himself down checking himself for further injuries.
Warren started toward Bob. The shadows hid his movement making his approach unseen by the wounded man. Bob grunted and shoved his free hand in his pocket. He pulled out his cellphone at the same time Warren made his move.
Bob turned to look at his vehicle. The straight right Warren had unleashed landed squarely in Bob’s thick chin. He grunted and crashed back into the earth. Warren went nuts. He sent a flurry of punches into Bob’s face, neck, and ribs. Bob tried to block the more serious of the blows, but at some point, he gave up and succumbed to the darkness brought on by various sources of pain.
“Thank God,” Warren muttered when he noticed that Bob was unconscious.
He tied Bob’s hands and feet, then went off to get his truck. The county road was lightly traveled, but Warren kicked Bob into a ditch to keep any joyriders from ‘rescuing’ him.
A few moments later, Warren pulled up to where the unconscious man lay. Bob was not a small man, and Warren, still exhausted from his assault on the man, had to get him into his truck.
Warren muttered under his breath and walked down the side of the ditch. He leaned Bob against a tall pine and went to pick him up using the Fireman’s Carry. Bob’s eyes snapped open, and he began to yell for help. Warren sent a beefy right hook into his jaw, closing his eyes once more.
“Screw this,” Warren said. He gripped Bob under his arms and half-dragged him up the side of the ditch. With much effort, he managed to get Bob into the backseat of his mega-cab truck.
Then, he drove Bob to his newly purchased acreage.
Swamps in Mississippi range from small bodies of stagnant water that brim with mosquitoes, to large bodies of stagnant water that is filled with fish, alligators, snakes, and mosquitoes. Some, if not all, have cypress knees which jut out of the black water. Warren tied Bob to one and waited for him to awaken.
Bob came to and struggled against his restraints. The long shadows of early morning halted Bob’s illumination until Warren stepped out. Bob glared at him.
“Howdy,” Warren said in a not unfriendly manner. “Quite a pickle you’ve got yourself into.”
“I’m going to kill you, hoss. I’m gonna kill you slow.” Warren smiled.
“Oh. Well, guess I got that to look forward to. Check this out, while you figure out your escape plan. You were in a serious car accident. Don’t worry. I treated your wounds; I would hate for you bleed out before you get the chance to tell me everything I want to know.”
“I’m not telling you anything…”
“Bob…Bob…Bob…you’re not listening. You’re tied to a cypress knot, knee, whatever. You’re not going anywhere. Did you know that in World War II, the enemies would tie soldiers they captured on the beach and bury them to their necks in the low tide? Then, they jammed sharp pointed sticks under their chins and cut their eyelids off. They were buried facing the east, so they could stare at the sun until they went blind.”
“I didn’t have time to bury you up to your neck, but I did bring something to cut your eyelids off if you don’t tell me what I want to know.”
Warren brandished the K-Bar fighting knife. The color drained from Bob’s face. Again, he struggled against his restraints and swore when he could not get loose.
“Help….help…” Bob shouted. Warren let him shout. Bob yelled and cussed until he was hoarse.
“Bobby. Check it out. I have a thousand acres out here, and no neighbors. Nobody can hear you.”
“Who are you,” Bob rasped dejectedly.
“Your goons killed my friend and raped his wife and daughter. Then, they killed them.”
“You’re Jacob’s friend, Warren. We heard about you.”
“Jacob was my brother.”
“Yeah. You were both military. So was I. Are you my brother?”
“I was yeah, as long as you toed the line. But you didn’t. You crossed it by working for that piece of crap Smiley Jack. You erased the line by having my brother killed.”
Bob laughed and shrugged. Warren punched him in the face. Bob laughed.
“That wasn’t me, brother. Smiley Jack set that in motion. I had no bad intentions against your brother or his family. If I had my way, no one would have gotten hurt.”
“Yeah, but that ain’t how it went down is it?”
“Who else was involved in the ruination of Jacob’s family?” Bob shook his head no.
“I’m done talking high speed. I know I ain’t leaving here. So, let’s get on with it.”
Warren pulled out a jar of honey and unscrewed the lid. He poured the contents onto Bob.
“Did you know that there are loads of black bears here? They love honey.”
The K-Bar flashed as Warren cut Bob’s face. Bob flinched and cussed. Then, Warren drove the blade into the right side of Bob’s torso. He grunted. Warren twisted the blade and yanked it out. Bob cried out in pain.
“You’re not tied to the tree Bob. You’re handcuffed to it. That’s why you can’t break free. Bears are attracted to honey, so maybe they’ll find you first. Snakes, gators, and other predators live in these woods as well. Big cats for example are attracted to the scent of blood. Either way, I won’t see you again.”
“They’re going to kill you!”
“They’re gonna try. I’m going to kill ‘em back.”
Warren turned and walked back to his truck. The last thing he saw was Bob struggling against his restraints as a fourteen-foot gator slipped into the water.
Smiley Jack was unhappy. For three days his enforcer had not shown up for work. No one had seen him. Runners were sent to his house. There was nothing out of place. On the second day, his vehicle was found by a deputy in a ditch on CR 141.
Blood at the scene revealed it was Hillbilly Bob’s. However, no body was recovered. They were still at square one. Sheriff Salmon wiped at his face and let out a heavy sigh.
“Come here,” he hollered at one of the new deputies. Her name was Rachel, or Raquel, something with an ‘R’. She came over.
“Go into town and dig up friends and close associates of Jacob and his family. Compile a list of people and make copies. Then, find them and talk to them. See if you can’t shake something loose.”
Salmon watched her leave. She was feminine, soft, and well-educated. He shook his head in disgust. The first two traits were fine, but he detested women who were smarter than he was.
The sun had begun its descent when Salmon and the crime scene techs finished at the scene. Sheriff Salmon’s phone rang, it was Smiley Jack.
“What have you got, Sheriff?”
“It’s a car wreck. There’s broken glass, blood, and the crime scene folk discovered a second set of footprints here. Someone was here, we just don’t know who yet.”
“Get me a name to go with those boot prints.”
“Yes sir,” Salmon said meekly.
Smiley Jack was very unhappy now. His enforcer was missing, and now, a second set of footprints were at the scene. “Someone sneaked him. Ain’t no way Hillbilly Bob would go down without a fight.”
“Get Suzy in here,” he shouted to no one in particular. A tall brunette picked up the phone and called the house.
“Smiley Jack wants to see you, madam. He’s not happy.”
“I’m on my way.”
Suzy grabbed her keys and headed for the door. When Smiley Jack paged you, you rushed to wherever he was located. This time was no different.
Underneath her unfinished carport was a covered vehicle. She loosened the straps and pulled back the tarp. The removed tarp revealed a hunter green 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner with a 440 engine. Suzy climbed inside and fired it up. The headers rumbled, and Suzy backed up.
She threw it in drive once clear of the carport and floored the accelerator. The engine roared. Suzy looked in the rearview mirror, her eyes were dead, her frown etched in ice.
“Dang you, Warren. I don’t know what you’ve done, but God have mercy on your soul.”
The Howling Hollow was packed when Suzy pulled up. A massive black man stood at the door and scanned ID’s. He waved Suzy on through. She nodded at him.
“How ya doin’, Titan?”
“Oh, you know how it is Ms. Suzy. Trying to stay off Jack’s bad side.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Suzy walked through the club and headed for the back rooms that Jack frequented. The tall brunette who called her waved her over.
“Bob’s missing. Jack is…angry. Be careful in there.”
She patted Tiffany’s hand and moved into the room. Smiley Jack watched her walk in. He forced a smile and gestured for her to sit beside him. She complied with her boss’s demand.
“How’s business, Suzy.”
“That new crop got the boys all excited, sir. Business is good.”
“You knew Jacob, right? The one that died?”
“Yes, I went to high school with him and his wife.”
“Did he have any close friends that you know of?’
“I don’t know. We fell out of touch before we even graduated. He was a goody two-shoes.”
Smiley Jack laughed but it was humorless. He leaned forward to peer into Suzy’s eyes. “You’ve got a thing for the bad boys, don’t you doll?”
Suzy smiled an uneasy smile and nodded. “I used to.”
“When Jacob moved back here, he was returning from war, yeah?”
“I heard he had a friend, Warren something or other. Did you know him?”
“Vaguely. He lived here for a few years but moved away.”
“Does he live here now?”
“He does. I don’t know where, Jack, but he moved here a while back.”
“Does he come over and visit your girls?”
“He has once or twice. He’s not what I would call a regular.”
Smiley Jack grinned and sucked on his tongue stud. His eyes showed no mercy, no love. Suzy thought he was a soulless husk unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace. “He’s an incurable disease.”
“Do you have his number?”
“No, why would-“
Jack slapped her across her face and knocked her to her knees. He stood up and grabbed her by the throat. He squeezed; Suzy gagged.
“You’re a lying little harlot,” he said quietly. “Bob is missing sugar britches. I think your little friend killed him. Go find him and bring him here, and maybe I will spare your worthless hide.”
Suzy gasped for air. Smiley Jack waved the brunette over to where he sat. The brunette stopped a few feet short having watched the mistreatment he had visited on Suzy.
“Congratulations,” he said to the brunette. “You are the new house madam. Come with me to my office, I’ll explain the details and perks of your new job.”
Jack gripped the wrist of the new manager’s hand and pulled her to the office. He nodded at four other men, they followed them in. At the door the brunette turned and looked at Suzy tearfully. Her fear was written all over her face.
“Yeah, Smiley. I’ll go get Warren. I hope he kills you, you sick freak.”
“Dear God at the rain,” Warren thought as he sat under his front porch. Lightning flashed, thunder boomed, the tin rattled from the force of the thunder’s rumbling. Thick sheets of rain made it impossible to see, but in the distance, he heard the rumble of a high-performance engine and the tell-tell growl of pipes.
Suzy turned into his driveway. Warren picked up the Mossberg 590 shotgun and laid it across his lap. It was the same model he had carried in the War on Terror, and it was loaded with slugs. “Let trouble come, I’m ready for it.”
Trouble was already here, and it came in a Purple Roadrunner and had red hair. She pulled up next to the porch and stepped out. Suzy wore an emerald green dress and subdued black shoes. The dress showed off her hourglass figure, her eyes were like looking into smoky glass. Her full lips were damaged, he noticed. All the makeup in the world would not cover up the swelling from the blow she took from Smiley Jack. Suzy was still a beautiful woman, even though it wasn’t enough to protect her.
“Hiya, handsome. Is that shotgun for me, or are you just happy I’m here?”
Warren said nothing. His eyes took in her beauty, and he took a deep breath to slow down his racing heart.
“What brings you to my doorstep? And what’s all…” He finished his sentence by point at the bruise and busted lips.
“Smiley Jack wants to see you. I don’t know what you’ve done, Warren, but he’s not happy. His enforcer is missing, his redneck hitman is missing, and you are on his list.”
“So, he beat you because you didn’t know anything or because what you told him wasn’t convincing?”
Suzy sat in a rocking chair next to Warren and sighed. Tears wet her eyes, and soon dribbled down her cheeks. She looked out at the woods where deer had stepped into his yard searching for acorns.
“Why did you come back, Warren? You always found trouble here, remember?”
“You’re one to talk, Suzy. At thirteen you had every red-blooded male in town panting after you. I remember that.”
“Not every male, Warren. You never panted after me.”
“That’s not true. I just didn’t make it obvious.”
“Even now? With this beat up face. Oh, and I am unemployed. I’m sure Smiley Jack has a hole with my name on it, right next to yours. What are you going to do?”
“I’m gonna make me a cup of coffee and pay Jack a visit. It’s time we had a talk about Jacob.”
They walked into his small home and made coffee. He sat in his recliner, Suzy came and squeezed in beside him. She looked around the small living room.
“So, this is it. It’s not much, Warren, and it’s definitely not warm, but I like it. It’s kind of rugged, much like its owner.”
“Thank you. Does Smiley Jack leave the Howling Hollow?
“Never. He has a large office in the back of the club. It’s where he and his friends…break in the new girls.”
“How many friends?
“Depends on their proclivities. Sometimes it’s three or four, other times it was him and Bob.”
“Bob won’t come back. A gator ate him.”
“How many bouncers?”
“Two on the main floor. One at the door.”
“Security detail? Radios?”
Suzy shrugged. “I don’t know anything about that Warren. I’m sorry.”
“No worries. I have some things for the party.”
Warren smiled and said nothing. He reached into a hallway closet and pulled out a chest. He pulled out his flak vest, complete with magazine pouches. Warren took out a green box labeled ‘flash bangs.’ He pulled out three grenades and shoved them into three single pouches attached to vest’s left side.
He walked over to the couch where Suzy sat and reached underneath. A Pelican gun case slid out. In it was a suppressed AR-15, and a suppressed 9mm Walther. Suzy’s eyes widened in surprise; Warren winked at her.
“Now, for the party starter,” he said. In another closet he pulled out an RPG-7 rocket launcher and two rockets.
“Dear God in heaven, Warren. Are you going to kill everybody?”
“I don’t care who dies, as long as Smiley Jack does. He killed my brother.”
“The girls are innocent, Warren. They had nothing to do with Jacob’s death.”
Warren leaned over and kissed Suzy on her busted lips. She closed her eyes and tilted her head up. Warren whispered, “no one is innocent, Suzy.”
She opened her eyes and stared into the eyes of her friend. His voice was cold, his eyes unreadable.
“Get some place safe, Suzy. This will all be over soon.”
How do you balance the scales when the only friend you’ve ever had is murdered, and his wife and daughter are raped and killed? Is there a line drawn in the sand, so you know you’ve reached the appropriate amount of vengeance?
Warren considered these questions while driving to the Howling Hollow. Smiley Jack was not an idiot, he knew Warren would come to enact his vengeance against him for is role in killing Jacob. Hillbilly Bob as much as said so.
“I’d hate to disappoint the old boy,” Warren muttered.
The Howling Hollow was deserted given the state of the parking lot. Two cars were parked right up front next to the door. Warren drove past and pulled off the road half a mile past the juke joint.
He slipped from his truck and into the quiet Mississippi night. Mosquitoes buzzed about his head, but he ignored them. Warren crept through the shrubs like a shade that haunts old battlefields. About six hundred meters from the juke joint he stopped. A cigarette flared on the back porch. Warren pulled the rocket launcher from his back and aimed it at the back porch. With a whoosh the rocket flew true. It hit the back porch and detonated.
Moans and groans filled the night air. Warren moved quickly through the night; his rifle raised. He scanned for targets and fired two rounds in each of the men that were lying on the ground.
He kept moving. Warren cleared the main floor and made his way to the back rooms. Suzy said Jack had a room where he and his men raped the new girls. Warren made his way there.
Smiley Jack was waiting for him.
As Warren entered the back room a shot rang out and hit him flush in the vest. He hit the ground and tried to catch his breath. Jack leaned over him.
“Howdy, Warren. I’m Jack.”
Smiley Jack aimed the pistol at his chest and fired again. Jack laughed and danced around. Warren tried to sit up, but Jack clubbed him with his sidearm.
“You don’t look so tough lying there with bullets in that vest. How did you get the best of Bob? Huh? How did you?”
“He did all the work. Unh, he wasn’t paying attention to the road and hit the ditch…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that makes sense. You couldn’t have taken him out otherwise. So, you sneaked him.”
“Yep. Fed him to the gators.”
Jack laughed and shook his head. He walked over and knelt beside Warren. There was no mirth in his eyes now, only a cold hatred that evil men have for the world and the rules and regulations of such.
“What did you have planned for me, huh? Were you gonna feed me to the gators, boy?”
“Nah, I had something special planned for you.”
He grinned, the fool grinned at Warren and nodded. Smiley Jack arched his eyebrows and grinned a humorless grin.
“I was going to take you to my thousand acres and tie you to a tree. Then, I was going to blow your skin off by shooting you repeatedly with rock salt. Don’t worry Jack, I’m a combat lifesaver. I can keep you alive. As a last measure, I was going to carve the names of my friends that you had murdered on your neck and chest.”
“I like that. It shows gumption and creativity. It’s too bad you decided to kill my people and tried to kill me.”
Jack cocked the hammer back, and Warren closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jacob. I thought I had him.”
“Do it,” Warren said.
A shot rang out, then a second and third. Warren felt the gush of wind hit him in the face as Jack fell forward. Warm blood splashed against his face. Warren opened his eyes.
“Are you alright, son?”
Sheriff Salmon walked into the room, his sidearm still aimed at Smiley Jack.
“I reckon you better get on out of here. There’s going to be a lot of questions coming out this mess.”
Salmon reached down and pulled Warren to his feet. Warren looked at him quizzically. The Sheriff shook his head and said, “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, son. She’s waiting for you in the parking lot.”
Warren walked out of the Howling Hollow. Suzy was propped up against the purple Roadrunner, still wearing the emerald dress from earlier. She watched as Warren walked out.
“I thought I told you to go someplace safe,” he asked her as he leaned against the car.
“After that kiss you gave me? I don’t think so.”
“Well, what next?”
“Let’s get out of here,” Suzy said. “We can figure it out later, if you want to.”
“Sounds good.” Suzy climbed into the driver’s seat and started the car. Warren climbed in and leaned back. She floored the gas and tore down the road to nowhere fast.
The blur of golden wheat flew by in a kaleidoscope of colors. Warren looked up at the sky.
“You’re avenged my friend. Justice has been served.”
Warren turned and stared at the red-haired beauty driving. All in all, he thought, I couldn’t ask for a better ending.