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Please note: This Internet publication of Risen is © 2000 by Jan S. Strnad. It is not public domain and may not be duplicated without permission!

Risen
by Jan Strnad

 

Four

Kent squatted with his head over the ditch. His body shook and pretty soon all the fear rose up inside him and expressed itself as a eloquent torrent of vomit.

Buzzy paced and flopped his arms as he looked up and down the highway. He kept glancing along the highway and muttering, "Somebody's gonna see us! Can't we just go?"

But Buzzy's ride, Darren, was hypnotized by the sight of Deputy Hawg lying in a pool of blood, dead as road kill. "Jesus," he kept saying, then as if he'd just noticed the body for the first time, he'd say again, "Jesus!"

"Don't tell me we have to tell the Sheriff." Galen's remark was directed straight at Tom.

"I didn't say we did," Tom snapped back. But it was true, his mind had been wondering what they'd tell Sheriff Clark. Would Clark believe that it was an accident? Would he believe that Deputy Hawg blew his cool and actually drew on Galen, and that Galen was afraid for his life, and that they'd tangled and the gun had gone off by accident?

Even if the Sheriff did believe it, could he admit that his deputy was more at fault than Galen, or at least as much so? There weren't twelve people in Anderson who didn't know Galen's reputation. It wouldn't matter what Tom and his friends testified to. Galen would probably go ballistic in court and start screaming at the jury and they'd find him guilty as sin.

Somebody had to have seen them racing through town with Haws on their butts. They'd get tied in with the body somehow. Tom and Kent were definite accessories to the crime. Darren and Buzzy might get off, seeing as how they weren't actually there when the gun went off. If the jury believed them.

Who would the jury believe? Haws had a reputation of his own. There was room for doubt.

They had to make a clean breast of things to have any credibility in the courtroom. Anything they did to cover it up would work against them. They just needed one juror on their side, just one. The worst thing they could do would be to try to hide the body.

"We have to hide the body," Galen said. Kent looked over his shoulder, sickness dribbling down his chin. Buzzy paced back and forth, his eyes on Tom. Darren's eyes tore themselves from the corpse. Tom stared at Haws' body and didn't say a word. He didn't have to see them to know they were looking at him. Him, the good kid. The smart one.

He'd known earlier that things were spinning out of control. This was just more of the same. He was in it now up to his eyeballs. It was no time to get into a pissing contest with Galen.

Galen went on. "We'll take it somewhere and bury it. Come on. Help me pick it up."

"Why don't we just get the hell out of here?" Buzzy said, his voice cracking.

"Because we need time, asshole! A couple of days. Time for it to rot so they can't pin down the time of death." Galen gestured, taking in the scene. "This here's like writing our fucking names in blood on the highway."

So Galen's mind was working, too. It worked differently than Tom's. It took paths that were more devious and treacherous. And yet, who's to say Galen wasn't right? The more confusion about what happened, the better. If the law couldn't absolutely pin them down, there'd be no case. Hell, if O.J. could walk....

"I ain't puttin' him in my car," Darren proclaimed.

But of course they did. Galen said it was because the Plymouth's trunk was bigger but that was bull hockey. He just didn't want any blood messing up his Charger, either because of the evidence trail or out of plain fussiness, Darren didn't know and didn't dare ask. When Galen got like he was now, you just did what he said.

Haws' spine had stopped the bullet so by keeping him on his back they were able to keep the bleeding down, what with his heart no longer pumping. Darren was still lugging around a bunch of camping gear he'd never put back in the garage, including a sleeping bag that they spread out. They thought they were doing a pretty good job of keeping Darren's trunk clean. They'd think that way until the next morning when Darren could look it over in the daylight. Then it'd look like someone had butchered a hog back there, but right now they were proud of themselves.

They drove six miles down the road and then onto a pasture road and stopped when they crossed a creek. They hauled the body down the bank, each boy except Galen hanging onto one corner of the sleeping bag. They carried it along the creek a few hundred yards and then up to the bank again.

Darren had to go back for the camping shovel he'd left in the car. Kent passed the time by dry heaving at the creek. Buzzy gave up and just sat down on the ground and bawled his eyes out.

Galen paced angrily, nervously sweeping the hair from his eyes every few seconds. He kept up a steady stream of invective directed at Deputy Hawg whose fault this whole fucking unbelievable mess was. Now and again he'd kick something, often as not the deputy.

Tom retreated into the Blacklands where nothing mattered, not even shooting a cop. The world around him vanished as if swallowed by fog. He watched from a hundred miles away as his hands dug a hole by the embankment. After awhile someone else took his place and he sat down and didn't see anything, nothing at all but shades of blackness swirling and roiling before his eyes in all directions.

He was caught up in events larger than himself by far. It was useless to fight them, useless to try to plan a course of action, useless to think, useless to do anything at all but to float on the wind like an expended husk.

After the deputy was planted and Galen had elicited the necessary oaths of silence, the boys headed home. Tom steered the Honda over roads so familiar he could have navigated them in his sleep.

He left his muddy shoes on the back porch, stripped off his clothes and climbed under the covers. As he closed his eyes it occurred to him that he had no recollection of the trip at all. He didn't remember entering the town limits or pulling up at his own house. He didn't remember anything after leaving the creek.

Except....

One thing. Something he hadn't even noticed at the time.

When he'd passed the church, someone was ringing the bell. Funny. Who would ring a church bell at that hour? It must have been midnight, at least.

***

Franz Klempner woke in a sweat. He didn't think he'd been having a nightmare but the sheets were damp and twisted as if he had. He heard Elmer downstairs, barking his fool head off.

By habit, not quite awake, Franz reached over to touch Irma and discovered only the empty bed.

"Irma!" he called out, and by now the fog in his brain had lifted and he began to connect his wife's absence with the frantic barking of the dog downstairs.

He rushed out of the bedroom and down the stairs, calling out her name. For some reason he paused at the foot of the stairs. Elmer the dog was in the kitchen and Franz could see that Irma wasn't in the living room. That's where he'd find her, for certain, in the kitchen. Then what impulse told him to take it slow? It just felt wrong, he couldn't say why.

Then the bell stopped ringing. The church bell, ringing in the middle of the night, calling to the faithful.

"Irma!" he called again. Elmer's insistent barking was ominous, intense. It wasn't like when he treed a possum or found a raccoon digging through the trash. There was a hint of fear in it.

"Irma!"

Franz padded on bare feet through the living room and toward the kitchen. The glowing hands of the mantel clock told him it was just after twelve.

He thought about turning on the light but the lamp was clear across the room. He wished he'd brought the shotgun but it was upstairs in the bedroom closet. He'd like to have felt something heavy in his hand...his flashlight would be good, but it was in the kitchen drawer. Why was everything always in the wrong place?

He reached the kitchen door. Elmer was going crazy inside. Franz reached his hand around the corner and felt for the light switch. Slowly his fingers inched along the wall until they found what they were looking for. He flipped the switch and the light came on just as the butcher knife stabbed the wall between his fingers. His middle and index fingers split open and trailed blood through the air as Franz instinctively jerked back his hand, screaming.

Franz looked up in horror at the terrified face of his wife. Her eyes were wide as she wrenched the knife from the wall and came at him again. The knife struck at Franz and his arm flew up in self defense and the blade sliced through his sleeve and bit into his wrist.

"Irma!" he yelled as she pulled the knife back to her ear and struck at him yet again. He grabbed her wrist and twisted. The knife fell and imbedded its point in the linoleum.

Irma squirmed free and ran to the back door. She whined in panic as she fumbled with the lock. In moments Franz was behind her and had hold of her shoulders.

"Irma, it's me, Franz!" he said, "It's only me! There's nothing to be afraid of!" He managed to turn her around and commanded her to look at him. "Look," he said, "it's only me!"

She glanced at him. "Look," he said again. She found the courage to meet his gaze. He smiled at her. "It's just Franz. I won't hurt you. You know I won't hurt you."

She stared at him for several long seconds, and he kept smiling at her and telling her that everything was all right. Elmer's barking deteriorated to a sullen afterthought and then died out altogether. Silence embraced the room, then was broken by the reassuring lap of Elmer at his water dish.

Tears welled in Irma's eyes. She threw herself into Franz' chest and wrapped her arms around him and clung there for dear life.

Meanwhile, not many miles away in the morgue of the Cooves County Hospital, John Duffy, whose jugular had been severed by his wife less than twelve hours before, bolted upright on the autopsy table and wondered what in the devil was going on.


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Chapter Five