The man had always possessed an abundant and creative imagination. At seventy-two years young, his mind would often drift down the long deceitful path of his life. This was different though. It seemed too real. The unknown source of this nightmare slowly drew him into a slippery darkness that made him anxious yet at the same time, curious. The pain in his head was worsening though. The liquid fire in his gut flowed through him like lava, scorching his viscera as it bubbled through his bowels. Usually he could snap himself out of his mental wanderings whenever it was necessary to do so but this was different in that respect. He could not shut this fantasy down. His tortured brain tried desperately to analyze the situation, to reconstruct the origin of his rapid and murky descent. He remembered it was Saturday. He was not at work. He remembered he needed to put an end to the dreadful nightmare that had followed him for many years.
Oh, that feeling of being pulled into a dark hole was so hypnotic that it resisted his feeble attempts to find some sense of order in these new surroundings. That odor, it is so familiar. That sickly sweet metallic smell. Blood! That’s it, blood! So warm, so peaceful. The man was having problems taking in air now. It felt like a plastic bag was wrapping itself tightly around his aching head. The air he could draw in was hot and stale. His pulse was rapid but growing ever quieter. He could no longer hear it drumming in his ears. What was that taste in his mouth? He tried to swallow but only choked on something thick and gritty. It reminded him of making mud pies with his daughter when she was five or six years old. But that was a long time ago. She thought it was so funny when he pretended to eat her freshly “baked” pies.
He noticed now that his feet were cold. Strange, he always had great circulation. At least his wife thought so. She loved wrapping her cold feet around his when they were in bed. Well, he thought, as his mind fought through the dark clouds of confusion, my senses are all going on vacation. His bright blue eyes saw only blackness; so thick, so pure, so devoid of life that his pragmatic brain could not begin to comprehend. This was becoming something far beyond tangible science. His ears heard only the fading drum roll of his heartbeat. His nose smelled blood. His mouth tasted gritty mud pies. He felt the coldness spreading upwards from his feet in spite of the hot fires burning in his throat down to his very core.
The last conscious thought that registered in the confused man’s brain was that he loved his wife and sorely regretted not telling her that he was undeserving of such a kind, beautiful, and wholesome woman. He was a murdering rapist and he had spent the last fifty some odd years running from that horrible truth. She deserved better. He had avoided sharing with her the secrets that had haunted him all his life and swore he would rectify that as soon as he worked up the courage. Every New Year’s Eve he promised it would be the year for confessions. His children deserved the truth as well. He was so proud of them. They had both accomplished so much in their lives and felt confident that they would take good care of their mother. Why these thoughts of atonement came to mind now in the midst of this horrible pain did little to clear up his confusion. This was indeed odd. In fact, it was…
“Let’s get out of here Bubba. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to. It’s spooky out here.”
“Relax Billy,” Bubba said as he sat down on an old Mesquite stump and swatted at a mosquito humming in front of his sweaty face. “That old man ain’t going to be around to finger us and there ain’t nobody out in these woods at this time of night anyways except a snake or two,” he chuckled as his friend began frantically poking at the tall grass with his shovel.
“I hate snakes, especially them damn copperheads,” he mumbled as he looked around wishing Bubba had not mentioned anything about snakes. The trouble with the central part of Texas was you could find all four venomous varieties of snake: rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin, and the coral, or they could find you.
Billy just knew he was hot. It was a typical September night in South Central Texas. The high humidity and ninety-five degree temperature soon drenched both men as they completed their midnight exertions. The damn humidity had a way of sucking the life right out of you. Locusts, crickets, and mosquitoes filled the heavy air with their nightly cacophony.
Bubba mopped at his bald head with his grimy bandana, “Put the shovels in the truck and bring me back another beer, I’m beat,” he told his friend as they trudged through the muddy grass.
“You’re beat?” Billy whined as he tossed the shovels noisily into the bed of the old pickup, retrieved a couple of Millers from one of the coolers, and tossed one to his mentor in crime. “I was the one who had to drag him into the woods. You shouldn’t have done him ‘til we got out there.”
“Hell boy! If you hadn’t split his skull with that damn flashlight maybe we could’ve done things a might more to your liking!” said an irritated Bubba. He didn’t like being questioned by Billy, or anyone for that matter.
“All right, I’m sorry. Why did we have to use that lye shit anyway? I got that shit all over me,” Billy said, quickly changing the subject. He knew not to cross this man.
“Don’t ask me, ask Tex. That’s the way he wanted it done. Doesn’t make much sense anyways, I got to admit, you already done near killed him with that flashlight,” explained Bubba as if he were talking to a child.
“Yeah, well we could have made him carry the shovels,” offered Billy.
“And the beer!” chuckled Bubba as he crushed another empty can in his callused hand and tossed it over his shoulder. “Hey rest your bones a minute I heard a good one yesterday.”
Billy dropped the tailgate and perched himself on it reckoning a snake couldn’t get to him there and broke out two more beers, tossing one to Bubba. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
Bubba popped the top and drained half of it before telling the latest joke he heard. “A mountain climber in one of them there foreign countries slips and barely catches a branch before falling five thousand feet while at the same time a good ‘ole boy in San Antonio is getting a blowjob from a ugly eighty-year old hag.” Bubba took another long draw from his beer. “What are both boys thinking at the same time?”
Billy thought for a few seconds before giving up. “I don’t know...what?”
“Don’t look down!”
Billy spat out a mouthful of suds and dropped his beer causing Bubba to laugh even harder. “That was a good one,” he choked out, slapping his leg.
“Yeah, that one gets to me every time.” Bubba’s eyes were tearing.
“It kind of reminds me of Francine, you know, that one-legged dancer who stripped at that place that burned down a few years back,” opined Billy as he regained control.
“Yeah she did give good blowjobs didn’t she? Her teeth were so bucked—she could eat an apple through a picket fence.”
“Sometimes I miss watching her hop around on stage like she did,” Billy said wistfully.
“Yeah she was fun to watch.” Bubba guzzled down the last of his beer and tossed the can to Billy. “Okay, time to get out of here. Let’s go collect the rest of our money.”
“You boys get it done?” asked the heavy man from behind the bar, popping the caps off two Millers and setting them down in front of Bubba James and Billy Robinson. Tex Landry, part owner and bouncer of Landry’s Saloon, situated in the center of Austin, gazed through grey squinting eyes into the blue haze of cigarette smoke hanging above the large crowd of patrons. A good crowd for a Saturday night he mused. The saloon was loud and dark, a feature which the less attractive patrons enjoyed. Cowboys and cowboy wannabes, dressed in their best straw hats, creased Wranglers, polished Ropers, and every color and pattern of Brush Popper shirt under the rainbow, were two-stepping in the dim light to an old Garth Brooks tune, which extolled the virtues of having friends in low places. Moreover, if you believed the inscriptions on the over-sized belt buckles, every man there was a champion bull rider. Some of them even had their names etched into the back of their belts. Tex figured the dumber ones did it because they must have had problems remembering or it assisted the women they woke up with the following morning—or both. Middle-aged women who caked on too much makeup and spent untold time squeezing into Rocky Mountain jeans three sizes too small strained to keep up as well as they could without straining the stitching. The four pool tables were crowded with serious players and those wanting to avoid having to dance.
“Yeah Tex we took care of it,” whispered Bubba loud enough to be heard over the jukebox. “He never knew what hit him.” Bubba took a draw from his beer and nervously looked around. “We came for the rest of our money Tex. We did what you said. We waited outside the address you give us and when the guy let his dog out we snatched it up and waited some more.” Bubba held the cold bottle against the side of his sweaty weather-beaten face. “Then when he came out looking for the dog, we snatched him up too. Billy here hit him on the head and we drove out to some woods about 20 miles from here. Then we poured that shit you give us down his throat and waited a few minutes.” Bubba emptied his beer with another long swig and set the empty bottle on the bar. “When we finished our beers we dragged him off and buried him. Your plan went off as slick as owl shit on a doorknob,” said Bubba proudly.
Tex kept pressing, “What about the dog?” he asked, looking from one to the other. Tex was mentally searching for any problems, not with the plan but with its execution.
“Uh, he sort of run off whilst we was having another beer.” Bubba was sweating under the third degree and wondering if he and Billy had fucked something up again. Crossing Tex was not something anyone undertook lightly even if by accident. Bubba could see Tex’s neck getting redder and redder by the minute, “Well actually I wanted to kill the yapping mutt but Billy here let him go,” Bubba confessed as he nervously scratched a mosquito bite on his fleshy neck.
Tex stared hard into Bubba’s lazy left eye while trying to decide if he was telling the truth or not. Tex knew he should not have involved these two idiots. The price was right though, $500 up front and $500 afterwards. Any good contractor knows how to skim off a little extra with cheap labor. He himself received $5,000 up front and a promise of $5,000 more when the job was finished. “Where are these woods, boys?"
Billy looked at Bubba for support, “We don’t rightly know Tex. Truth is we got ourselves a little lost. It was dark out there,” he stammered.
“Keep your damn voice down. You boys telling me you don’t know where you were,” he asked in a hushed tone that still showed a hard edge.
Billy was stuttering now, as he often did when he was nervous. He looked over at Bubba again, “We could find them can’t we, Bubba?”
“Why would we want to find those woods anyway?” Bubba asked. “We shouldn’t be anywhere near them woods if you’re asking me.”
“I’m not asking, Bubba.” Tex did not like what he was hearing. Something was not right. These two had to have screwed something up besides letting the dog go. The dog represented a loose end and loose ends usually come back to bite you in the ass. “Where’s that piece of paper I give you Bubba; the one with the address?”
Bubba fished the wadded paper out of the back pocket of his dirty jeans and tossed it on the bar. “What do you need this for, I was going to flush it in a few minutes anyway after you get me another beer,” said Bubba while holding up his empty bottle.
Tex unfolded the scrap of paper, looked at the address, and clutched it tight in his fist. A strange thought occurred to him and at the same time, he felt a cold damp hand grip his heart.
“Bubba,” he said while pressing his face within inches of Bubba’s. “What kind of dog was it that you boys let run off into the woods?
Bubba and Billy looked at each other with questioning shrugs when Billy bleated out, “It was some kind of curly white poodle, Tex. He was a real little feller, nice too.”
The cold hand around Tex’s heart just gripped a little tighter. “And what address did you boys go to,” he asked, afraid to hear the answer.
Bubba was not sure why Tex was grilling them like this. He and Billy were very careful and did everything Tex wanted, didn’t they? It was odd though that they were supposed to be prepared for a fight but the man they just killed must’ve been at least seventy years old. He weren’t much of a fighter at all, Bubba thought.
“Tex we done what your note said. We went to 1700 uh…Lime Rock Court, yeah, that was it, Lime Rock Court.” Bubba replied, still wanting a refill; his throat was getting drier by the minute. “I remember because I had done some work in that limestone quarry north of here,” he said looking to Billy who just nodded in agreement. “Is something wrong, Tex?”
“Why, you no account cedar choppin sons of bitches!” Tex yelled, as a couple of pretend cowboys standing nearby looked his way. “The dog was supposed to be a black mutt of some kind!” Tex unfolded the scrap of paper and slammed it down onto the bar. Bubba reached out, flipped it over, and read the penciled scribble—1700 Limerick Court.