by Richard Dansky
Cole was licking the highway when the cops picked him up the night before Thanksgiving. Reckless endangerment, they said, and obstructing traffic, and whatever else they could come up with to get him out of the road and into a holding cell.
Later I went past the spot where they arrested him, on my way into town to bail him out, stopping for a moment to take a look. A deer and a truck had made unfortunate contact there, and the highway was a twenty foot long streak of red. A couple of cars passed me going the other way. Speeding, both of them, and one didn’t have their lights on. Cole had gotten lucky, I decided, even if he didn’t realize it.
Bailing him out didn’t take too long. We’d been through this before, the duty sergeant and I. He did the paperwork and I handed over the money, and all the while phones rang and people shouted and cops ran out the door to deal with the usual pre-holiday drunk and disorderlies.
“You going anywhere for the holiday?” I asked the sergeant.
She shook her head. “Husband’s family finally came to visit this year. I get to get off shift, then go home and cook.”
“At least you’ll only be dealing with one turkey at home,” I ventured. It didn’t get a smile. She just slid the forms across her desk. “Sign here, and here. I’ll have someone bring him around.”
I signed. She picked up the papers. “You sure you don’t want to leave him here overnight? Might teach him a lesson. Seriously, this is the third time we’ve picked him up this year.”
“Cole’s a slow learner,” I said. “Besides, the wife said go get him. So I’d better bring him home.”
“Guess you’d better, then.” She moved off. There was some yelling in the back, and then another cop, one I didn’t recognize, walked out with Cole. He had his head down and his shaggy mess of a haircut hid his face, but I could tell it was him. There was blood on that blue work shirt of his, for one thing, and on the knees of his dungarees, too. It wasn’t a good look.
“Hello, Cole,” I said.
“Hey, Jerry,” he said without looking up. “Sorry you had to come on out here.”
“Your sister was worried about you,” I said, and he flinched. Good enough; we could save any further conversation until we got in the car.
The cop – his badge said “Piscotty” – gave Cole an ungentle shove toward me. “He’s all yours. Keep him out of trouble the rest of the weekend, okay? We need the room back there.”
“I’ll do my best.” Cole turned around but I tugged him away and the door before he could say something stupid. Instead, we walked around to my F-150 in silence. I let him in – the electronic locks had given up years ago – then walked around and climbed in myself. “Seatbelt,” I said automatically, then started her up and rolled out towards home.
“Yeah, yeah,” Cole muttered, but he clicked the belt anyway. “Hey, uh, thanks for getting me out of there. I didn’t want to spend Thanksgiving in jail.”
“I figured. And don’t thank me. Like I said, it was your sister’s idea.” We headed down the main drag as a light rain started falling. Bars on either side of the street were spitting out customers and sucking down new ones, folks without families or looking to avoid them, prodigal sons and daughters looking to reconnect with their old classmates after returning home for the holiday and finding they’d outgrown their old familiar places.
Cole craned his head and licked his lips. “You want to stop for a drink?”
“No. Cecily said to get you straight home.”
“Aw.” He shrunk down into his seat, arms crossed. I took a left onto the county road and picked up speed. “You mind if I turn on the radio?”
“Don’t care one way or the other. Just try not to pick something that sucks.”
“You think everything I like sucks,” he said, petulant, but reached for the dial anyway. A little fiddling brought us past two preachers, a couple of country stations, and some talk show blowhard before he settled for a college football game between two nobody schools neither of us had ever heard of. “There. That good enough for you?”
I shrugged. “It’s fine. Now you got the radio, you’ll maybe want to think about what you’re going to tell your sister. She’s spitting tacks.”
He blinked at me. “I thought you said she was worried, not mad.”
“Mad is how some people show they’re worried. I’m surprised you never noticed that. I picked up on it years ago.”
“Yeah, and you married her anyway.” Cole shuddered. “Shit. Why’s she gotta be so pissed off about everything?”
We passed the town limits, a few brick houses with crumbling sheds disappearing into the grass and the dark. Streetlights stopped at the town line, too, so it was just two lanes of rain-slick black asphalt headed into the woods and the dark. I flicked on the high beams, watched them bounce off the mist for a few seconds and then thought better of it.
“She’s pissed off because her dumbass older brother, whom she loves dearly, keeps on doing stupid shit that might get him killed or worse, and because said dumbass brother seems incapable of realizing that what he’s doing is a danger to himself and others. Including, I might add, her.”
Cole snarled. “Who asked you, anyway?”
“You did,” I replied evenly. “Now who’s winning?”
“Temple, I think,” he said. “That a college? Ain’t never heard of Temple before.” He sniffed. “I guess if they’re playing on a Wednesday night, they can’t be too good.”
“Probably not.” Trees sped past and the rain picked up. “So, what are you going to tell Cecily?”
“Gonna tell her the truth. Tell her I was minding my own business and the cops started hassling me for no reason. I wasn’t doing nothing wrong.”
I let out a long, slow breath. “I don’t think that’s going to fly, Cole. Not this time.”
“But it’s true!”
“We both know better than that. They called from the station as soon as you were brought in and told Cecily everything. She’s not going to buy that act of yours, not this time.”
He sat bolt upright. “But it’s not an act! They did hassle me!”
“They pulled you off the road before you got turned into splat number two. And any day now, someone is going to start asking questions about why they keep having to peel you away from the fresh roadkill, and when that happens things are going to get ugly. For you, for me, for the whole family. For Cecily.”
“I don’t want nothing to happen to her.”
“Then you’d better get some self control.
He grunted something that might have been assent, then turned and rolled down the window. “This OK?” he asked, and didn’t bother with an answer before sticking his head out into the wind.
“Oh, Cole,” I muttered under my breath, and kept driving.
Town disappeared in the rearview, the twinkling lights reduced to a purple glow in the cloud-scudded sky. Soon there was nothing on either side of us but darkened farmland, and it would stay that way until we reached home.
My phone buzzed. I dug it out of my pocket with one hand, checked and saw it was Cecily. “Hey babe,” I said by way of a greeting. “How you doing?”
“You know damn well how I’m doing, Jerry. You got him?” She was in one of her moods, I could tell. No small talk was going to calm her down, so it was best just to play it straight.
“Got him right here. You want to talk to him?”
“Not really, but I kind of have to now, don’t I?” There was anger there, sure, but something else, too, a bone weariness that I’d rarely heard. If Cecily was feeling that way now, I didn’t envy Cole none.
I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see it. “I guess you’d better, yeah. Hang on let me get him for you. Love you.”
“Love you too. Now let me talk to my dumbass brother.”
“Hey Cole,” I said away from the phone, and then punched him in the arm when he didn’t respond.
“What’d you do that for?” He sounded wounded, like I’d kicked a puppy. But he pulled his head back inside the window to glare accusingly at me.
“Phone, Cole,” I said, and handed him mine. “It’s your sister.”
He stared at it for a second, then brought it to his ear. “Hello?’
I couldn’t make out any of the words Cecily used, only that there were a lot of them and they were very loud. Cole tried to interrupt her a few times, and that went about as well as you might expect. Every so often she sounded like she was winding down, Cole’d say something else dumb and she’d start right back up again.
That went on for the better part of ten miles before Cole handed the phone back to me. “She says she wants to talk to you now,” he said, and he sounded shaken. I looked over at him and he was pale and sweating. Whatever Cecily had said, it had put the fear of God in him.
“What can I do for you, babe?” I said as I took the phone. “Everything all right?”
“Everything is not all right, or you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.” She let out a long breath. “Sorry, hon, don’t mean to take it out on you.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “You’re the head of the family. You’ve got a lot of pressure on you.”
“Don’t I know it,” Cecily said. “Thanks for backing me, hon. A lot of men wouldn’t do that.”
“You didn’t marry a lot of men. You married me. Now are you sure about the rest of this. Not too late to change your mind.”
“It was too late a long time ago. Love you.”
“Love you too, babe,” I said, and hung up.
“She didn’t yell at you,” Cole said accusingly.
“That’s because I’m not a fuckup, Cole,” I said evenly. “I’m the one bailing you out of jail, not the other way around. Now what did she say to you? Maybe I can help take the sting out.”
Cole shook his head. “She said she was disappointed in me. Can you believe it? Said that Ma and Pa would be disappointed in me. My own little sister, telling me these things. I’m the big brother. I should be head of the family, not her.”
I sighed. “Cole, we’ve been over this a thousand times. You and I both know you’re not cut out for it, and you agreed to it. Hell, you’re the one who nominated her when it came time.”
“She’s my little sister. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her.” Now he was contrite, his moods swinging all over the place. This wasn’t a good sign.
“That’s why it meant so much to her for you to straighten up and fly right. How long’s it been since you did meth, hmm?”
“Three weeks,” he said defiantly. “Not since my last talking to. Nothing but beer since then.”
“Nothing but beer.” I nodded. “And if I made you pee in a cup, all that would come back would be High Life?”
“I don’t drink that piss. Stag, brother.”
I shook my head. “Right. Stag. That’s all you’d read? No weed, no blow, no meth?”
He leered at me. “Doesn’t matter. You can’t make me take a pee test. You can’t make me do anything. Only reason you’ve got a voice in the family is ‘cause you married my sister.”
For a moment, I wished I could have a cigarette, It would spare me the need to keep talking to Cole for a minute or two. But Cecily had told me to quit, and so I had. It was best to do what Cecily told you to. Instead, I flicked off the radio – whoever Temple was, they were losing badly – and gunned it a little. Cecily had asked me to have this talk with Cole, too, so I was going to have it, no matter how pointless I thought it was.
“It wouldn’t be me making you take the test and you know it, Cole. So come clean with me and maybe I can make things go easier for you. When’s the last time you smoked meth?”
“Three weeks ago,” he repeated stubbornly.
“Uh-huh. Cole, they caught you out in the middle of the highway, licking deer meat off the asphalt. “ Suddenly I was very tired of Cole and his bullshit. “Your sister asked one thing of you – that you kick the drugs. She offered help, she offered money, she offered a place to stay away from all your dealers and smoking buddies where you could get your head straight, and you wouldn’t do it. Why is that, Cole?”
“Not wouldn’t, couldn’t.” Now he was back to the shakes. “I would do anything for Cecily. Anything. Except that. ‘Cause I can’t.”
Real soft, I said, “You know that’s a problem, right? We can’t have you getting out of control and getting the family in trouble.”
“I know,” he said miserably. “Maybe you should just lock me up.”
“Thought about it,” I said casually.
That brought his head up like a shot. “You didn’t!”
“I most surely did, but Cecily shut it down. Said it wasn’t right to do that to family, even fucked-up family.”
“She’s my sister, all right. Attagirl, Cecily! I always knew she’d have my back.”
I shifted in my seat, the .45 at my hip resting there uncomfortably. “She’s got the whole family to look out for,” I said, but I looked away as I said it.
There was silence in the cab of the truck for a couple of mlles, Cole fidgeting in his seat beside me and me just trying to keep my eyes on the road. Finally, he broke the quiet. “Where you taking me, Jerry? This is the longest ride home ever.”
“Same ride as always,” I told him. “Just taking it slow cause of the rain. Tires are worn down on the truck, so I don’t want to skid out.”
“Oh. That makes sense.” He curled up in a ball, looking like a scared kid and not a grown-ass man, 42 years old, whose life had been one long litany of fuckups. “You know, I always liked you, Jerry. When Cecily first brought you round and there were some of us that weren’t sure you were family material, I stood up for you, you know. I said, ‘That Jerry, he’s a good man, and Cecily loves him.’ Some of the others wasn’t so kind.”
“Thank you for that, Cole. It means a lot to hear you say that. And now here we are.” Jesus, I thought, why did he have to make this any harder than it had to be.
“And now here we are,” he said, echoing my tone as well as my words. Then, as I pulled the truck off to the side of the road into a dark, wooded patch, he took a look around. “Where’s here? What are we stopping for?”
I took a deep breath. I knew Cole would never understand, but I owed it to him to try. “Cole. You remember when you and Cecily were growing up and you used to read her fairy tales?”
His face screwed up into a mask of puzzlement. “But I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything. The truck all right?”
“The truck’s fine,” I reassured him. “And bear with me. You remember Snow White? When the huntsman is supposed to take the baby Snow White out into the woods and kill her so the baby couldn’t come back and kill the queen some day?”
“Yeah.” Cole was still hesitant. “But the huntsman let her go, and the dwarves found her and she lived happily ever after.”
I nodded. “So she did. But the queen didn’t.”
“Too bad for her, I say,” Cole chortled. “She shoulda picked a better huntsman.”
“Uh huh,” I said, and drew on him.
“What the fuck, Jerry?” He scrabbled in his seat, trying to get as far away from the gun as possible. “What are you fucking around for??
“I’m not fucking around, Cole. Open the door nice and easy, then get out and stand next to the truck.” I had already slipped my seat belt off and was getting ready to slide out and walk around.
But Cole had to fuck things up once again. He went to run for it, and I shot him twice in his skinny ass before he made five steps. He went down, scrabbled a bit in the dirt, and then lay still.
I walked around the truck, pistol still out, and went over to where he was sprawled on the ground. He heard me coming and raised his head off the dirt. “Why, Jerry?” he asked. “Cecily’s gonna be so mad at you.” He coughed, and black blood came out of his mouth. That was the silver in the rounds I’d put into him, doing it’s work.
I knelt down beside him. “Cole, you damned fool. I tried to warn you. This was all Cecily’s idea.”
“My sister? My little sister? No, no, no,” and then more coughing.
“You got too sloppy,” I told him. “The booze and the drugs, and you not half bothering to hide what you were from the folks down in town. Licking the highway, Cole, for fuck’s sake. You were putting the whole family at risk, and Cecily made the hard call. She loves you, but she couldn’t let you take us all down.”
At that, Cole laughed. “Is that what she told you? Yeah, I can see why you’d believe it. You’d swallow silver for her, you got it so bad. But just you wait. She turned on me, one of these days she’s gonna turn on you.”
Then he lay down for the last time and died.
“I expect she will,” I said to the corpse, “But not today.” I picked the dead body up and slung it into the back of the truck as gently as I could, then put a tarp over it in case I got stopped, which wasn’t likely this far out. Then I pulled out my phone and called a familiar number.
“Where are you, hon?” Cecily’s voice came over the line. “Is it done?”
“I’m in that wooded patch Old Man Rucker let grow up on his property, and yeah, it’s done.”
She let out a little sob, and then said “I’m sorry you had to do that. I shouldn’t have asked it of you.”
“It is what it is,” I said. “He’s in the back of the truck, in case you want to give him a decent burial.”
“I’d like that,” Cecily said. “What about his court date?”
“I’ll tell ‘em he stole a hundred bucks out of your purse and skipped town. They won’t look for him too hard.”
“No, I don’t expect they will.” There was quiet on the line for a minute. Then, “Come home, hon. Bring my brother with you.”
“Will do.” I went to break the connection, but before I did, I could hear her say, “I’ll be waiting.”
About the Author
Richard Dansky is 20+ year veteran of the video game industry, where he has written for games like The Division, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and numerous others. He’s published seven novels and one short fiction collection, and was a contributor to White Wolf Game Studios’ World of Darkness games. He lives in North Carolina with a cat named Goblin, whom he swears was named that when he got her.
About the Narrator
Originally born in Texas, Trendane Sparks eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.