by Justin Haynes
Carson took one last pull on his cigarette, flicked it to the dirt driveway, and stamped it out the way he might a bug. The frigid air bit at his exposed neck so he pulled his coat tighter around him and took another pull on the moonshine he kept in the flask that was never far from his hip pocket. With the flask in his hand and still unscrewed he turned to face the trailer he was standing in front of. The mailbox read “5654” and over the top of the door stickers spelled out the name “Ramsey.” Checking his notebook with his other hand he confirmed this was the house. He took another sip and wished Ramsey would hurry back. He had church in the morning and this killing didn’t need to take all night.
He had put the boys to bed before he wandered into his room earlier that evening. Courtney sat on her side of the bed waiting for him. He kissed her as he crawled in.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Just making sure. Momma is gonna be there and she wants to see the babies.”
“We’ll be there, I promise.”
Courtney fell asleep quickly while Carson lay awake, waiting. At midnight he got the text message he had been waiting all day to read.
“5654 County Road 77. Ramsey.”
That was all the message said. He knew Ramsey would stay out late and he would come home drunk around two in the morning. Carson hoped a woman wasn’t with him when he did. It was his first killing and he wanted it to go as smooth as possible. He had been working for Mr. Walden for about two years. He had started out in the junk yard and within six months he was over seeing the operation and turning the highest profit of all Mr. Walden’s junk yards. Now was his big chance to move up into Walden’s inner circle. If he could do this killing and do it right his family would be set for life.
So he stood in front of Ramsey’s trailer as the first morning light began to creep in. Church was at eleven and he knew now he would have to take the body with him. He had been told Ramsey stayed out late. He didn’t figure it would be five am though before he came home.
An old blue pick up truck with a dent in the passenger side door pulled up beside the trailer. The drivers side door swung open and Ramsey stumbled out all in one motion. He fell to his knees in the yard and begin to vomit in the grass while his body quivered and he let out a soft moan.
Dammit, Carson thought, he’s gonna smell even worse with all that throw up on him in the trunk of my car. He stayed hidden; out of sight from any wandering eyes, in the woods behind Ramsey’s trailer. He fumbled for the flask and took another sip on the cool whiskey to help steady his nerves as his prey crawled from its knees and began to wobble towards the trailer door. As the door swung open Ramsey fell through the frame and left the door half-open.
This is too easy, Carson thought, as he walked out from the woods.
“Christ wants us to call upon Him for comfort and guidance in this world,” Pastor Ledford said. “He knows the sufferings of those here in Chandler County. He knows the jobs are going by the wayside and that it’s getting harder and harder to find work and feed the youngins. But while these hard times may seem too much to overcome for you, there is nothing that can’t be overcome with the help of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
“Amen,” the congregation shouted out as Carson squeezed Courtney’s hand.
“He knows our trials, He knows our tribulations. To Him all things are possible. He will not give you more than you can handle. No, God your merciful father gives you what you need to realize that He is your provider and that you should call on His name, and not the name of the government, or other men, or even your family. Just like when the Israelites left Egypt, so shall he provide for you! For it is written ‘they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength and mount UP with wings … like eagles! They shall run and not grow weary and they shall walk and they SHALL NOT FAINT! ”
“Just last week the Lord provided for this church. I told this benevolent man I would not make a scene for what he did, but The Spirit compels me to do so. Kenneth Walden, our own Mr. Walden, made a sizeable donation to the church. We’ve been needing that new fellowship hall but tithes have been tough to come by. But in the spirit of giving Mr. Walden came to me with an offering which was more than enough to cover the cost of construction and labor. And the Lord has continually blessed Mr. Walden for his good works and good deeds. For while many of us sinners have fallen away from the Lord, he has stayed near. And while many of us have lost our jobs, Mr. Walden has been there to lend a hand and hire any man who was willing to work at the junk yards.”
The church body stood and clapped. Kenneth Walden, seated in the front like he always was, rose momentarily to take in the applause. His graying hair and beard cast his face in a seemingly endless shadow as he waved a rugged, weather worn hand to the congregation. His face showed the look of a man full of confidence and his eyes scanned the room of the church until they found Carson.
Carson saw the friendly gaze suddenly turn to fire as his eyes were locked onto Mr. Waldens, unable to break away. He gave a quick nod and once again Waldens eyes turned back to those of the cheery old church benefactor and away from those of local crime kingpin.
“Shall we, now, brothers and sisters, call forth those of you who have not yet been washed in The Lamb’s blood? Come, come, and fill your hearts with the everlasting love of Jesus Christ!”
The congregation rose and began singing “Only Trust Him.” Carson stood up to sing with the rest when he felt a soft pull on his hand. He looked down and saw the elder of his three boys, Michael, looking up at him with tears in his five year old eyes.
“Daddy, I think Jesus is tuggin on my heart.”
Carson took Michael’s hand and the two walked to the front of the sanctuary together. Pastor Ledford hugged Michael and knelt to pray with him as Carson stood at the front of the church with a proud smirk on his face. He felt the clasp of a large hand on his back and turned to see Mr. Walden smiling at him.
“That’s a good boy you got there Carson.”
“Yes sir, he takes after his momma’s side.”
“He’s a good boy. And you’ve worked hard. Did you do that favor I needed you to do.”
“Yes sir, it’s almost complete.”
Carson felt Mr. Walden’s hand tighten on his shoulder. His eyes narrowed and his teeth grinded together. Walden leaned in close to him to whisper in his ear.
“Ain’t nobody payin you for almost, boy,” Walden hissed through clinched teeth. “Ramsey stole from me and I don’t take to that. Now, I know you’re not doing the same thing Carson. I know you love that sweet boy of yours too much to be that damn stupid, right?”
“Oh, no sir, no it’s not like that,” Carson said in a panic. “He’s, um, taken care of. He’s, um, waiting to be taken, um, um … ”
“Taken to the Lake House?”
“Yes sir, to the Lake House.”
Walden’s face warmed again and he patted Carson on the shoulder. “Good,” he said. “I think you should come see me this afternoon. We have a lot we can talk about. You’re moving up in the world Carson, yes you are.”
The congregation finished singing and Michael took his place beside Carson as Pastor Ledford introduced the newly saved Michael to the church.
“His daddy has been working hard for Mr. Walden,” Pastor Ledford said. “And this is what happens when we are gracious to those who show favor with us. God has smiled on Carson, Courtney, and their beautiful young family. It is through His blessing that their son has come to know Christ as his savior. Those in favor of Michael’s membership to this body of believers let it be known by saying ‘amen.’”
Carson opened the fence door and backed the old Mercury down the gravel road to the Lake House. He opened the door, popped the trunk, and lit a cigarette as he looked at the dead body of Ramsey. Shit, Carson thought, next time I’ll need to use more blankets to soak up all the blood.
He dragged the nearly two hundred pound corpse out of the trunk and in doing so tripped over his own feet. As he fell backwards Ramsey’s open eyes met his as they landed with Carson flat on his back and Ramsey on top of him. For a moment all was still and Carson could almost hear a soft whisper from the dead lips of the man who he had killed earlier that day.
Ramsey had begged for his life just like Carson had expected. He said he would give back the money he stole from Mr. Walden. Carson knew better. Once Walden decided a man had to die then that man had to die. And if anything, or anyone, stood in the way of that happening then it would have to die too.
Ramsey cried and pleaded for his life and for “one more chance, dear God just one more chance” but Carson knew the game and he knew what the final score had better be. So he shut him up with a .45 round to the chest, a Ziploc bag, and a little fishing wire. The killing had actually been the easy part, it had been the storing the body until after Church that had puzzled Carson at first.
But now they were at the Lake House together. Courtney was at home with the kids and would be keeping his lunch warm. It would be nearly two before he could get back but he knew his family would be alright. Mr. Walden was going to help take care of him from now on, he was inside his circle, and he would be taken care of so long as he just kept doing his job.
Carson lugged Ramsey down to the lake and tied a rock around his ankles like he had been told to do. He had been told there was a small row boat resting in the shallow water and tied to an oak tree and, sure enough, it was there. He dragged Ramsey out into the water and heaved him into the boat before rowing the boat out to the middle of the lake.
It was a Sunday afternoon in December so he knew nobody would be out to find him on this day. He took one final glance at Ramsey and tossed him overboard. His eyes tracked the body all the way down and he could see Ramsey’s eyes, still open, looking back up at him with fear and sorrow burned forever in them. Finally the cool darkness of the lake took the body from Carson’s view. He drove the boat back to where he parked the car, lit another cigarette, and started for home.
His mind wandered back to the sermon. The Lord had provided all this for him, he thought. He knew Carson was a good man and should have more in life than what he had. So He let Mr. Walden hire him and now — after the killing — Walden would trust him with anything. Carson smiled. For the first time in his life he felt he was moving up in the world.
He started laughing. At first short burst of giggles and then it all descended into unhinged laughter. He pulled the car to the side of the road and laughed until he cried. Then he wept. He didn’t know if it was tears of joy, sadness, or shame. But he cried for what seemed like hours. He found the flask in his coat pocket and took another pull. When he looked at the clock he realized he had in fact been crying for hours.
Carson’s phone beeped. He picked it up and read the text message from Courtney.
“Suppers ready, please come home,” it said. “It’ll be dark soon.”
Justin Haynes is a native born Georgian with deep roots in Alabama. All of his stories deal with the region he has known his entire life and the people, places, and cultures which make that region unique. This is his first published story.