Saturday, December 1, 2012

Outside Reading

In the beginning was the word wrote John and even if out here in the impoverished counties that assertion meant little, there were still some pockets of belief left in the valley. Churches, schools, general stores -- plain places you could meet people of your own persuasion. Nobody had much of anything but they stuck together, drinking coffee, talking about the government, the weather, the prices of basic goods. Everything was reducible to a struggle between the haves and the have-nots. The Wal-Mart out on the Allentown Pike. Mikey and Steve went down to the driveway across from the barn, each carrying a rifle. Lou had gone with them to quieten the horses. She was the oldest of the siblings. Hell raisers all. But this was no movie.

The first pick-up came down the hill opposite theirs trailing dust like a harbinger of disaster. In a movie its descent would've been shot through a long lens in slow motion. Mikey wanted lots of bass on the soundtrack. Dung dung dung. They squinted and cursed. Shit -- this was gonna be a mess. It wasn't hard for Steve to imagine music: minor chords over Mikey's thrumming bass in Dolby Surround-Sound. But this was real life so there was none of that fake shite, only the faraway sounds of a bucking engine and fat tires skidding down loose gravel. Everything in this corner of Pennsylvania looked old and beat-up.

The pick-up moved with purpose. They couldn't see who was driving. Maybe it was the effin law coming to confiscate their weapons. "I hate the law," said Steve. It looked like the cab was full. "Me too," said Mikey. Lou didn't say anything. She stopped for a second and watched the loaded vehicle make its way toward them. She looked at the two boys. Something was wrong with them, genetically. But she didn't know exactly what it was. She had a different father than them, but that hadn't helped her much.

There were three horses in the barn -- two geldings, gentle as donkeys, and a flighty mare. Lou had worked them all. The boys were no good with the mare. Christ they could barely handle the geldings above a trot. She talked to the beasts and shooshed them in the darkness. She didn't want anything to happen to the horses.

Outside the pick-up was coming closer -- it had gone down the far rise and now only had to cross the half-mile flat between it and the boys. The kids had been watching too many movies. Shit like this happens differently in real life. People panic. "We shoulda stayed upstate," Mikey said. "Hell, we shoulda stayed inebriated," his brother added. This was no longer a game. They were scared inside but it wouldn't do any good to show it. Some academic on the radio that morning said that courage was born out of vulnerability. That was news? What bullshit.

They weren't good shots even under ideal conditions. Out here in the dusk with the sun in their faces and the pick-up moving methodically at a slight angle left to right, the likelihood was pretty good that they were gonna be chewing dirt before the clock struck six. "Maybe I'll be rid of them at last," Lou said aloud to herself. She was determined to stay in the barn and come out unarmed when the melodrama was done.

The first pick-up stopped about three hundred yards from the boys. As it did, two more trucks -- another pick-up and something larger, more like a personnel carrier -- appeared at the top of the ridge. The smaller of the two had a loudspeaker mounted on the cab roof and a spotlight affixed to the right door frame. Both were on. Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" was playing. You could hear it clearly across the valley. It made Lou sick to think that whoever was coming for the boys would hoke it up like that. This wasn't Francis Ford Coppola. This was real life. "Goddamn lawmen," she said to herself. But there were no lawmen anywhere around the homestead. She didn't know it at the time, but the guys in the trucks were from Tyson's crew -- they weren't gonna kill the boys unless it was in self-defense. But they would break their legs. And collect their money.

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