Rusted Nails and Lost MemoriesbyHeathen Hemmingway©
Without reading the other installments of the Man In Black, this may not make much sense. As always, there is much fact buried within the fiction. Which is which? I'm not always so sure…
It was one hell of a day for the kid. It was October the 10th, the day of his eighth birthday.
He was standing on a milk crate, reaching for a cardboard box on the second shelf just beyond his grasp. He did not notice the man standing behind him with a big stick of stovewood in his hand. As the kid's fingers touched the box, an agonizing pain suddenly tore through him. The man struck him hard in his side with the stovewood, letting out a grunt with the effort. The kid was knocked off of the milk crate and landed against the wall, striking his head on the lower shelf as he fell. He slumped to the floor, grabbing at the shelf to break his fall. An old Gulf oil can lived on the shelf under a fine layer of dust. It held a dozen or so rusted twenty-penny nails, wood staples and an old tangle of fishing line strung with treble hooks. An aged railroad spike lie on the shelf next to the can. The can teetered on the edge of the shelf and then fell, spilling its contents onto the helpless kid's face and landing bottom up on his head. The railroad spike slid off behind the can and landed on his chest with a hard thump. The kid instantly started screaming and flailing, slapping the can away from his face.
If he had been sober, the man might have been aghast at the sight of the boy as he squirmed and yelled, blood pouring from several small cuts and punctures peppering his head, face and neck. Several nails were embedded in his scalp and one had pierced his left ear. Two lanced the skin of his neck, oozing blood in a bright red trickle. A grimy nail caked with years of rust and scale was stuck between his left eye and his nose. For a very brief moment, the man almost regretted hitting the kid as he watched him fumble blindly along his face and neck, snatching the nails out as his hands encountered them. His hands were slick with blood and spotted with flecks of rust and filth. His groping hand found the nail jutting out next to his eye, and he cried out in pain as he pulled it out and threw it aside. A high pitched noise filled his ears and his head felt like a ringing bell. The world seemed to sway before his eyes. The kid had no idea such pain existed.
"That'll teach you to sass me boy." The man grunted.
Through a haze of red, the kid looked up to see the man standing over him, stinking of booze and smiling a drunkard's smile. He struggled to remove the snarl of fishing line and hooks. Several of the hooks gouged his clothing and skin as he fought to remove them, adding to the scratches and cuts he already carried. The kid grabbed the railroad spike from his chest and rose to his feet, his legs shaking and threatening to give way under him. He faced the old man as he tore the last of the hooks from his clothing. Two of the nails were still lodged in his scalp but the kid didn't seem to notice them despite the blood coursing down his face. He was stinging and aching from head to toe, and he was scared as hell. He felt an odd, numb sensation all over his body.
As he stood there gripping the spike so tight that his knuckles turned white, he realized that wasn't just scared. The kid was angry. He held the railroad spike tightly, clutching it like a weapon. The anger was huge inside of him, unlike anything he had ever felt. The kid felt somehow detached from himself, almost as if he were watching himself from some far-off place.
"I dint sass you." The boy said, barely able to breathe. His accent was unabashedly Southern. "You ast' me what I was doin' in the dry room and I tol' you. Mama tol' me to get the bleach powder and scrub out the tub 'fore she got home."
"Don't you talk back to me, boy." The man barked, holding the stovewood up to strike the boy again.
"I done tol' you to quit pickin' on me!" The kid yelled defiantly.
"Hmph!" The man snorted. "Yor mama ain't here to watch over you now boy. You don' talk to me like that!"
"No!" The boy growled. "You don' talk to me like that! It's my birthday you son of a bitch! Can't you jus' leave me 'lone?"
Suddenly the man snarled and swung to hit the kid again. The kid took a quick step back and threw the railroad spike as hard as he could. He watched as the bloody spike flew through the air, seemingly moving in slow motion. As the man lunged forward it struck the man in the right eye and embedded itself deep in the socket. The man jumped as if he had been hit with a jolt of electricity. He staggered back two steps and pawed at the spike. Blood erupted around the flat head of the spike and ran down his cheek. As he clawed frantically at the spike protruding from his eye, he resembled a gruesome pirate with a bleeding eye behind a rust colored eye patch. The man's arms suddenly went limp and then he fell forward to land face down at the kid's feet, dust rising up in a small cloud around him. The kid did not move, mesmerized by anger and horror. Blood was pouring freely from his head and neck. He was breathing fast, the numb sensation much stronger. He reeled a little as he stood there looking at the dead man. The fear had left him, but the anger was still there. The kid felt as if he had a million volts of electricity charging through his skin, his hands bunched into bloody fists.
"And my name ain't boy." The kid panted.
He realized his vision was going dim, the world suddenly swimming in shades of grey and black before his eyes. He fell to the floor. As darkness took him he heard the faint sound of approaching footsteps. The last thing he remembered was his mother's voice. She was screaming.
Twenty seven years later
The first thing she noticed about him was the way he pronounced her name. She couldn't remember the last time a man had pronounced it right.
"Thank you Helena." He said politely as she sat a fresh cup of decaf at his table.
Not 'He-Linn-a' or 'He-luh-nuh'. No, he said it the way her mother had on the day she was born. 'He-lay-na' he had said, as naturally as if he had been saying her name his entire life.
It caught her off guard and made her nervous for some odd reason. She caught herself staring at him and quickly looked away. She suddenly felt hesitant to speak, and she had no idea in hell why. He was just a guy sitting at a table eating his breakfast. He was polite, though. And something else.
"I'll be right back with your check." She said nervously.
"No need to hurry." He replied serenely. "Been a long day already. I'm rather enjoying sitting still for a while."
"Ok then." She said, and turned to leave.
She wasn't sure, but as she walked away she thought she could feel his eyes on her. Or, she thought, she damned sure wished his eyes were on her. A rush of warm air met her as she walked through the swinging doors into the kitchen. She waited for the doors to swing closed again and then peeked through the narrow crack between them to take another look at the man sitting at her table.
For all practical purposes he was a pretty average looking guy. Late thirties, maybe early forties. Jet black hair with a little silver showing here and there. It was the way he dressed, maybe, that really made her take note of him. Black suit, white shirt and a black tie. As she looked him over her eyes trailed down to his feet. No patent leather businessman-like shoes there, and no soft tan leather loafers like you might expect, either. He was wearing rough looking black boots. At first they seemed to clash somehow with his suit, but after a few more seconds of watching him they seemed to fit. She couldn't picture him as the biker type, but for some reason the boots suited him perfectly.
A black briefcase was tucked under the table close to him. His hair was short and he looked as if he had a fresh haircut just a day or two before. He could have been a banker on a weekend trip, or maybe one of those up and coming day traders who was making too much money to be caught dead in anything but a suit.
She heard a voice from behind her.
A thin woman of about forty passed through the doors with a big tray of food supported expertly in the palm of her tiny right hand. She had a pitcher of tea in her left hand. She looked over her shoulder and winked at Helena.
"Not bad looking." She said with a giggle. "Get 'em kiddo."
Helena suddenly found herself blushing. As the doors swung closed again she saw the man looking up. He was looking in her direction with a wry smile. She turned and walked back into the kitchen.
"Good God Helena, get yourself together." She mumbled to herself. "He's just a guy eating his breakfast for Christ's sake."
And true enough, he was just a guy eating his breakfast. A very polite guy. Maybe even a true to life, honest-to-God pop-culture phenomenon. This guy just might be a gentleman. Helena decided that when she went back to his table to refill his coffee she would just have to find out. She was gathering her nerve to walk back out to his table when she decided to take another quick peek, possibly to prevent making a fool of herself. As she watched him, he pulled a cell phone out of his pocket, spoke a few quick words and then put the phone back. He stood up and pulled his wallet from his back pocket, fished through it and removed a bill. He tucked it under one corner of the saucer his coffee cup rested on. She noticed he was wearing a black leather belt, and as he moved she could see the letters NA embossed in the leather. Nathan maybe? She wondered. Moments later he was gone.
'Great' She thought 'Not only is he leaving, but I bet he just let me a shit tip. His tab was $9.13 and I bet he left me a ten.'
She resigned herself to a dollar tip as she went to clear the table. She pulled the bill from its hiding place under the saucer, palming it without thought. She stopped and looked at the bill again, momentarily catching her breath. Benjamin Franklin stared up at her from the palm of her hand.
Later, in the dark
"So." The man in black said, wiping blood from his chin. "That's how it's gonna be, huh?"
His bottom lip was bleeding. He didn't mind the stinging pain or the blood on his shirt, but when a stray drop of blood landed on his right boot he found himself genuinely pissed off.
"Aw, now that just sucks, don't it?" He huffed.
A man was lying on the ground in front of him, staring up at him wildly. Both of his knees were shattered and his face looked as if it had met a concrete wall. Matter of fact, it had. The man in black stood over him, opening and closing his right hand. A pair of brass knuckles was clenched tightly in his fist, covered with drying blood. He sucked at his bottom lip then spat red.
"That was a good shot you got in there, Cochise. I did not see that one coming." He mused, even though he knew the man had only hit him by chance.
When he fell on the man in the dark, he hooked one booted foot behind his right knee and kicked his leg out from under him and then pegged him hard in the back of the head with the brass knuckles. He grabbed a handful of the man's hair and pulled him back, and as he did the man slapped blindly at him as he fell to his back. It was a blind panicky punch that barely connected. Just enough to piss him off, though. The man in black had been too eager to kill the man, and he had let himself get a touch sloppy. It was alright by him, though. He had every intention of making this one messy.
"Motherfucker you're crazy!" The man yelped and tried to crawl away, his ruined knees instantly protesting in agony.
"Might be." The man in black replied glumly. "See, I used to go through these moments of doubt, when my conscience almost got the better of me. Like maybe I was doing the right thing the wrong way. Then I came to this epiphany, see. I realized that some of the greatest minds ever known to man felt the same doubt I do sometimes. And that never stopped them from doing what needed to be done."
The man in black slipped the brass knuckles from his fingers and deposited them in a jacket pocket, and with the same swift motion pulled a pistol from under his left arm. He thumbed the latch and flicked the gun to one side, popping the cylinder out. He spun it with his thumb and then flicked the gun again, the cylinder rotating back home with a metallic click.
"Punkin' balls." He said. "Soft lead, lots of shrap. They make big ragged holes going in and bigger more ragged holes going out."
"What?!" The man stammered. "Dude you're straight fucking nuts. Who the fuck are you?" He yelled.
"You can holler all you want, ain't nobody gon' hear you. It's just you and me and the stars and the crickets out here, my man. And my name's Nails, by the way." The man in black said, almost cordially. "And I know, I know. I've heard it a thousand times." He said, raising his left hand in an apologetic gesture. "The truth is, I don't know how I got a name like that. I mean, sure. I have a name. A regular name, but it ain't what people know me by. People don't believe me when I tell them that I don't remember how I got my name, even though it's the truth. Way back when I was younger, for whatever reason somebody put that name on me and it stuck. Damned if I can remember why or how."
The man in black stopped talking and stared blankly off into the darkness for several seconds. He looked like someone deep in thought or concentration.
"Truth be known, at times that bothers me, man. I'd give one hell of a lot to remember why people call me that. Shame is, everybody who might know is gone now. That's a mess, ain't it?"
"Man what the fuck are you talking about?" The man at his feet cried.
"Sorry." The man in black replied blankly. "I got distracted there." He said, leveling the gun at the man's head.
"Anyways, I'm here on behalf of a family in Killeen, Texas. They lost a boy a few weeks back. Some bastard took him out of his bedroom. Did some horrible things to him, then stuffed him in a fertilizer bag and put him in a hole out by a retaining pond. Poured lime over him, bag and all then buried him. Forensics said the kid was still alive when he went in the ground."
"Oh… no…" The man pleaded, his voice quivering.
"Oh, yes." Replied the man in black. "Damned shame, that was."
A shot rang out and the man at his feet lie still. He sucked at his lip again and spat blood again. The man in black closed his eyes then stood there for several moments, running his fingers through his hair. He shook his head, as if to shake off cobwebs.
"I need another cup of coffee." He sighed to himself as he walked away, disappearing into the dark.
~The End, For Now~