No Controlling Legal Authority - ProloguebyTheScribe©
Grateful acknowledgment is given to my dear friend Louise, aka, Sprite_65@yahoo.com, without whose able assistance and keen eye I would never have learned the difference between taut and taunt and a host of other pitfalls for the unlearned.
All characters are fictional, and any resemblance to persons known or unknown is unintentional. This story was written solely for the entertainment of adults; minor readers are cautioned to read no further.
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The flame in the old oil lamp writhed like a tormented soul in the gusting wind that whipped the inky blackness beyond the thick screen of trees. A dark, hulking figure stood knee deep in a new excavation, sweating and cursing the roots that contested every bite of his spade.
"Goddammit, woman," he snarled, "You pick the damnedest places to dig; this here ground ain't nothin but rocks and roots."
"Shutup and hurry, you old fool; it ain't no worse than them others." Her thin, reedy voice had an edge, an anxious vibration, that made the words tremble on her tongue.
"I can't hurry. They's too many rocks, and I'm near wore out carrying him all the way up here, for Christ's sake; it must be two miles back to the road."
"Quit your whining and dig, unless you want him found before we git back to the house."
"Found? Hell, woman, ain't nobody gonna find him up here. Even if we left him on top of the ground, wouldn't nobody find him."
"You're a bigger fool than I took you for. They's hunters all over these hills; one of them would come across him before the month's out, and then they'd be all over the place with their dogs sniffin and diggin, and then where would you be?"
"Oh, ok, ok" he grunted grudgingly and angrily jabbed the spade into the hard earth. He could imagine a horde of sheriff's deputies combing the hills with bloodhounds and backhoes, excavating every depression, and he began to sweat in spite of the cool night air. "How deep you want this hole to be, anyway?" he grumbled.
"Two more feet ought to do it. `Bout like them others, you know. Puttin them in plastic bags helps some, and we can put them rocks on top, so's the dirt don't settle so much. Do it right, and won't nobody ever know what's buried here."
"I hope you're right, woman, cause hit's gonna take me another hour at least to dig that deep." He sounded uncertain, but rose from the hole with another spade full of dirt.
"I been right so far, ain't I?" she cackled smugly. "Ain't one of them been found yit, have they?"
"I reckon not," he acknowledged sourly. "Least wise, none that we heered about."
"Don't be a fool, man. You know if'n they'd found one, we'ud have heard about it. That kind of stuff gets in all the papers and the TV." She was shaking her head confidently.
"What if somebody starts lookin for one of them; asking questions; snooping around?" He looked up from the hole, squinting nervously to make out her face in the shadows. He only half-heartedly believed her and wanted the reassurance of seeing her when she spoke.
"Who'd want to start looking for some damn runaway kid, a drifter with no home or family to care about them?" she replied with an air of assurance. She had instructed him carefully about how to pick and choose their subjects; hitchhikers, wanderers passing through the desolate truck stops and rest areas along the interstate, transients, homeless and friendless, the flotsam and jetsam of an uncaring, indifferent society, here today and gone tomorrow, their passage unnoticed or forgotten. So that, when their usefulness had run its course, they could be disposed of easily, with no one the wiser to ask questions. "You been pickin `em like I told you, ain't you?" she followed.
"Yeah, yeah, sure I have," he said. Sometimes, and this was one of them, when he was preoccupied with something that worried him, he had a detached manner of speaking that gave the impression that his responses might not be completely reliable.
She was standing outside the circle of light, leaning casually against the trunk of a gnarled tree and watching him as he stabbed angrily at the soil with his spade. A black plastic bundle was lying on the ground at her feet. The man in the grave was sweating, and worry, or perhaps it was dread, had deepened the lines on his face. She could see the restlessness of fear in his darting eyes and in the grim set of his jaw. He was struggling to control his anxiety, and his tight grip on the shaft of the spade had turned his knuckles white.
He was pathetic, she thought, and worse, he was also stupid and unreliable, potentially a danger to her, and briefly, like a wisp of drifting cloud that obscures the face of a full moon for a moment, a recurring thought crossed her mind, and it occurred to her that she might be better off if he was the one who was going into the hole instead of the kid. How simple that would be, she calculated with complete detachment. Just wait till the hole was dug and slip up behind him quietly. Wait till he stoops for the last shovel full of dirt, then put a bullet through his brain and drop him right in the hole. There would be room enough for the both of them, and she could easily cover them up; dirt goes back in a hole a lot easier than it comes out. It would be simple, clean and quick, like snapping a chicken's neck, and, then, she would be free, free of his stumbling and bumbling, free of his nervous incompetence and careless talk.
She pondered the possibilities while he sweated and cursed the uncooperative earth. She was pretty enough and still had her figure; she could easily pick up another man to take his place; one who was just as strong, just as virile; one who was more eager to please her and more pliable. Fantasies of eager marionettes danced and bowed on slender threads in her imagination, and her fingers closed around the cold metal grip of the pistol in her coat pocket. She thumbed the hammer and closed her eyes, visualizing the flash, the sharp cough, the quick kick of the recoil, and a new life far from the scruffy, flinty hills of Missouri. The clink of steel on stone as his shovel struck another buried rock, followed quickly by his grunt of disgust, snatched her back to reality, and she shrugged in resignation. Not yet, she thought, reaching to pull a half empty bottle of whiskey from her belt.
"Here, Cletus," she said, stepping into the light and proffering the bottle, "This'll give you some of that backbone you seem to be missin all of a sudden."
He paused, leaning on the shovel handle, and glared at her malevolently, but he took the bottle from her and unscrewed the cap before tilting his head back and taking a long swallow of the amber fluid. "Whew," he gasped when the liquor seared his throat. He lifted the bottle, it's contents had been considerably diminished, and steadied himself for another pull, but she stopped his hand before the spout reached his lips.
"That's enough. You get drunk on me, and we ain't never gonna get that hole dug."
"Shit, woman," he growled, tightening his grip on the bottle. She tugged the neck ineffectually, trying to wrest it from him, and he laughed at her. He was strong, she had to give him that, but his brain was just muscle, too, and that muscle only got weaker when he drank.
"OK, Cletus," she said icily, releasing the bottle and putting her hand into the pocket with the pistol. "Do what you want, but just you remember that I'm leaving here with the lantern in thirty minutes with or without you, and if you think you're goin with me, that hole better be dug right and filled up before then, you understand?"
He eyed her pocket warily, and then looked at the bottle. His cogs turned slowly, synapses fired randomly, some connecting, some not, and he wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his shirt. He wanted the whiskey. He wanted to feel the heat pour into his belly and to feel the numbing, rebounding rush into his head and limbs. He wanted his brain to soar on hundred proof wings and to forget the corpse stiffening in the trashbag by the tree, but he knew there would be hell to pay, that she would carp at him endlessly, and he dared not take her threats too lightly. He remembered the pistol in her pocket, the wicked little, nickel-plated, .32 calliber revolver with five live rounds in the chamber, and that memory sobered him some.
"Oh hell, here." he grunted grudgingly and handed the bottle back to her. "Take it and get out of the damn light." She retreated to the shadows clutching the bottle, and he jabbed the shovel point into the bottom of the hole. He stomped the blade driving it deeply into the earth and imagined that the blade was cleaving through the bone and stringy sinew of the crone's neck. His fingers twisted on the burnished shaft of the spade, and he could almost feel her fragile bones disintegrating under his twisting fingers. The thought cheered him, and warmed him even better that the liquor would, he thought, and he attacked the hole with renewed determination.
His anger fed his strength, and he hacked ferociously through the dense dirt and roots, till the pit was finished, and the corpse was buried. She helped him cover the fresh dirt with leaves and forest debris, and then she held the light over the freshly filled hole, while he made sure the site was as natural looking as they could make it. When they had satisfied themselves that nothing remained to disclose their passing, he followed her and the lamp into the black night, weaving through the thick brush and trees, till they reached the abandoned logging road and their battered old van.
They drove for nearly an hour in silence, listening only to the whine of the tires and a cacophony of rattling, loose parts, until, near the end, with only a few miles to go, he interrupted her thoughts by grunting, "He put up much of a fight on ya?"
She thought about trying to whither him with a glare, but it was too dark in the van, and he was staring straight ahead and not looking at her, so she answered, "Naw. We timed hit purty good this time, so he'as cummin and never knowed what hit him."
"You two ought to be gettin good at it, you've had enough practice," he interjected sarcastically.
"But," she continued, ignoring his tone, "he got all tensed up and stiff, and he jerked around at the end, like one of them guys you see on TV in the electric chair, gettin juiced, and she thought that was really cool."
"I'll bet she did," he grumbled. "So, how much did she pay you for him?"
"`Bout the same," she lied quickly, immediately regretting her candor. "Three thousand, plus a five hunnert dollar tip on account of him bein so much fun." It was more like fifty five hundred, but he didn't need to know about the extra two thousand that was destined for her shoebox and the rainy day fund she kept stashed in a secret place behind her kitchen sink.
"Izzat all?" he bellowed incredulously. "Hell, woman, she paid us four thousand for that one back in the spring, and his pecker weren't no bigger than my thumb."
"Oh, shut up, you idiot," she snapped peevishly. "She don't pay for the peckers, and you know it. Don't you remember, she paid extra that time, cause somethin spooked the kid, and, before anybody could grab aholta him, he done popped me upside the haid with a table lamp and hit took twelve stitches to close up the hole?"
"Oh, yeah, right," he grunted vaguely.
Shit, she thought, berating herself anew for the slip of the tongue that had revealed the bump up in the fix price for her services on that occasion. Had to have been the Demerol the doc had given her at the ER just before he set to stitchin her up; made her drunk and fucked up her arithmetic, otherwise ole Cletus would never have known about the extra thousand in her purse that time.
"You happy now?" she spat more in disgust at herself than at him.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"Good, cause we're home already, and I don't feel like talkin' no more. Hit's still dark up there, so maybe we can get us some sleep 'for them kids git up an start sniffin around for theys breakfast."
"Lord, woman," he muttered as he turned into the driveway, "how you can sleep after what you done, I'll never know."
She eyed him contemptuously for a moment before replying in a voice as cold as sleet on a granite tombstone, "Hit don't mean nothin, Cletus. Hit's just like killin a hog; hit don't mean nothin at all."
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