Sunday, April 5, 2020

Issue #62 -- April 2020


By Andrew Davie

The temperature in the kitchen had eclipsed rational description and moved on to religious analogy. How anyone could drink tea in these conditions was incomprehensible, but it was one of the few things John could keep down.

Vernon felt the sweat pool at the concave areas of his body. It stuck his now soaked through clothes to his skin. He dreamed of the plunk the leader would make as it broke the water’s plane when he could fish in the stream behind the house. Even now, amidst the terrible humidity, he could imagine the cool water at his knees as he stood in the riverbed, isolated from the world. Driven by a need to satisfy his desire, he walked toward the front door but stopped and chased the thought from his head; there would be plenty of time for that later after John had his tea. Vernon sat down in the chair and dragged a handkerchief across his forehead. Instantly, the rag darkened and he shoved it unmercifully into his pocket. His white hair itched from the humidity; he felt all of his sixty years.

They were off the coast of Mississippi, an hour from the next soul. At one point in time, it was a lively place. Sarah would often host events at the house. However, it had been quiet since her demise. Now, her son John haunted the top floor. Suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s, he seldom left the confines of his bedroom. Sometimes, he would be in a daze and mutter half-delirious truths or old vendettas against former rivals; other times, he was lucid and precise enough to recall vividly the details of his rhino hunt.

The kettle built up to a slow roar and Vernon rose out of his chair. His back seized on him but just for a moment. He pushed the kettle onto another burner and waited for the whistle to subside. He poured honey into a mug; the faint smell of lilac from the bag permeated the kitchen. His massive calloused hands scooped the mug on the tray. He let the bag steep then started the journey to the master chamber.


As a young man, Vernon had spent most of his time in and out of juvenile detention centers for petty crimes until a grand theft auto conviction graduated him to felony status, and he enrolled in gladiator school at Angola Prison under the supervision of Associate Warden Fogarty. Throughout his tenure, Vernon felt less than human. His first week in, he made the mistake of earning the ire of Thor.

It wasn’t the guard’s given name, but he possessed long blond hair and at six-six, the requisite frame. Thor was the most imposing hack in the prison and doled out punishments with little provocation. Instead of the department-issued nightstick, he’d fashioned a shillelagh twice the size of regulations. The warden dismissed the excessive force complaints since Thor kept order within the realm of the walls. The prisoners stayed in line when he walked the tiers, the only thing which mattered come election time. Vernon had long since forgotten the details, the circumstances which made him a marked man in Thor’s eyes, but suffice to say he still bore the scars.

He would never have trouble remembering the altercation which led to Thor’s death, though. The investigation into the murder proved to be fruitless as there had been too many suspects, but the investigators had marveled at the brutal violence and compared the attack to that of a wild animal.


Vernon stopped before the bedroom door and placed the tray on the floor. He opened the door and looked through the opening. John, now an emaciated form, lay in bed.

“I have your tea,” Vernon said.

As usual, there was no response. There was virtually nothing anymore. The quiet used to trouble Vernon. Now, he barely noticed it. Vernon brought the tray over and laid it on the end table. John stared at the ceiling. His eyes were faded but retained some energy. In the past, Vernon might have tried to start a conversation. However, this time, he simply walked out of the room and began his long trip down the stairs.


It was during the prison rodeo that Vernon got his revenge. It had taken him almost a year of planning and waiting. Every time Thor walked his tier and banged his feared cudgel against the cell bars, it felt like they were being dragged across Vernon’s rib cage. Now, as he stood in the corner of the horse’s paddock, he gripped the fiberglass shiv so hard he thought he might crack it. He had finished grooming Cinnamon whose head was buried in a pail of oats. The smell of hay was thick. It was silent except for the occasional neigh from a horse in a nearby stall.

Thor would arrive soon. He was going to lead Cinnamon to the arena, then grab a quick smoke; at least, that’s what Vernon’s recon had told him. It had cost him his desserts for the next six months to get that information, but it would be worth it. Vernon could practically hear his heart beating through his chest. He flinched every time a noise sounded from outside the stall. Cinnamon continued to chew loudly without ever taking her head out of the bucket.

Eventually, footfalls echoed on the landing and stopped outside of Cinnamon’s stall. The door slid back and Thor stepped inside. As Thor turned to shut the door, Vernon was already on him. Vernon hadn’t studied any anatomy textbooks, so he didn’t know where would be the most lethal place to strike. He figured to try and cover the maximum area possible. Thor’s back was to him when he delivered his barrage. Thor had bellowed with surprise after the first strike. He probably would have screamed in pain after the next few, but the wind had been knocked out of him. The coroner’s report would later list the cause of death to be a combination of shock, organ failure, and severe blood loss.

When Thor had stopped convulsing, Vernon rolled him onto his back. Vernon worked on him for another few seconds. When he finished, the horse had finally raised her head. She still chewed her oats, but now she stared at Vernon. Soon, however, she went back to her food. Vernon broke the weapon into smaller pieces and threw them down a drain in the corner of the stall. Then he hosed down the area. He figured he’d have another few minutes or so before anyone came to look for Thor.

Vernon slid the partition back and stepped onto the landing. It was clear. He made his way back to the stands and blended in with the audience. Ten minutes later, when Thor’s body had been discovered, the alarm sounded and the prisoners were rounded up and bused back to the penitentiary. Over the next few days, the administration raised hell. Ultimatums and threats were issued. The rodeo would be canceled for the next few years, and more sanctions were placed on the prison population. While it may have curried favor with the inmates, Vernon never let anyone know he was responsible. Over the years, various convicts would take credit; some of their claims were debunked, others weren’t. In the end, Vernon was content to do his time peacefully, now that Thor was out of the picture.



John’s voice was dry and cracked.


Vernon had just set the tray with the tea on the end table. He had already turned to leave and had taken a few steps when John spoke. John’s eyes were unfocused, and he launched into a recollection of when he had hunted a rhinoceros in Namibia. It had been something he had wanted to do his entire life.

It caused quite a stir when part of the funding came from a nonprofit group that granted “wishes” to people dealing with illness. John had always claimed the animal had been in a full charge and stopped before he could gore John, his guide, or any of the other hunters in their group. He went on to suggest how it was as if the animal had dared them to act. John had steadied his nerves and aimed his weapon. Both continued to stare at each other until John’s compatriots opened fire at point-blank range. The animal remained upright for a few more seconds, took some steps forward, swayed, and fell to the ground. The other members of the group continued to fire to ensure the beast had been killed.

Of course, whether or not it happened was anyone’s guess. Vernon had been skeptical the animal would have stopped mid-charge, but he never said anything. He probably could have tracked down someone else from the group to verify John’s version of the events, but it didn’t matter enough to him to do so. The trip had seemed to reinvigorate John, and he would often stare at the photo that had been taken of him and his trophy. Vernon had heard the story so many times, he could probably recite it verbatim.

The first time he’d heard it, he had just started to work as a caretaker for the family. John had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and though the symptoms hadn’t progressed to the point where he needed full-time care, John’s mother Sarah could use the help, especially since her husband had passed a few years previously. Even though Vernon had served time, the family was willing to overlook it. He was one of the few applicants with medical experience. Of course, he had only worked in the prison infirmary as an orderly, but most healthcare workers had balked at the prospective salary. Vernon had agreed to less than what they had offered and seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the chance to help John.

He started to work for the family and had rented a room nearby. In the beginning, he helped around the house. He changed light bulbs, did the grocery shopping and the laundry. Sarah worked full time providing bookkeeping for a few companies in town. At the end of the day, she and Vernon would play canasta as a way for her to decompress. She had learned how to play the game after she had spent some time doing missionary work in South America and developed an affinity for it. After she had returned home, it didn’t take long before she introduced the game to her friends. Often, she would lead a bible study group, and after a break, they would split into teams for a few games.

At the end of each day, though, Sarah and Vernon would enjoy each other’s company. Their relationship was always one of mutual support and never became romantic. Though it certainly could have gone that way, both of them regarded the other as a necessary component to provide a sense of solace and nothing more.

A few years later, after Sarah died, and John’s condition deteriorated, Vernon moved into Sarah’s old room. He kept it relatively empty. Except for some fishing gear, and a few books, it was spartan. His list of duties grew exponentially until John needed around-the-clock care. He switched from canasta to solitaire.


“Is there anything I can do, Mr. Tarden?” Vernon said.

John stopped talking and his eyes came back into focus. It was as if he seemed to notice Vernon for the first time that afternoon. He reached to the side of his bed and opened the drawer of the end table. His movements were deliberate, and he ground his teeth as he put forth a concerted effort. His hand came back with a Smith & Wesson .38 service revolver. It had belonged to John’s grandfather who had been a sheriff. John brought back the hammer and pointed the weapon at Vernon. The two men stared at each other for a moment before John broke the silence again.

“I know,” he said.

John had emerged from his haze, and for the first time in a while seemed cognizant. He was in his mid-forties, now, but his condition made him appear much older. John turned his head slightly, so he could gaze at the bottom shelf on the left side of the room where the shillelagh had been displayed. It was one of the various possessions which had been issued to the family after the funeral and the execution of the will. Next to the weapon were two framed photos: one of John with the rhino, as well as a newspaper article that detailed the demise of James Tarden while in the line of duty.

Vernon stared at the shillelagh for a long time before he addressed John.

“There’s something else you should know,” Vernon said. “There are no bullets in that gun.”

Vernon’s voice strained as if it had taken a Herculean effort to speak. Tears had formed, though he wasn’t aware of them. Absentmindedly, he wiped them from his face. John’s eyes were shrewd. Another moment passed, and the gun didn’t waver. Vernon sighed and slowly reached into his pocket. He produced a gravity knife and opened it. The blade caught some of the light and it danced on the wall above John’s head. Vernon felt a rush of emotions that had long been dormant.


The following day Vernon cast his line in the water. The leader plopped into the darkness, and he pulled the line taught. He waited a moment and picked up a can of beer from out of the water by his feet. He popped the top and took a long pull. Very little would change in terms of his day-to-day life; there were still chores to be done around the house. He would just have more free time. The solitude might be difficult, but he had endured worse, so he knew he was ready for the challenge.

It had been months since anyone had inquired about Sarah, and aside from insurance claims, he doubted anyone would check on John. Besides, it wouldn’t be difficult to settle John’s estate. It would take time, but he had plenty of that now. He doubted anyone would investigate. Vernon looked over his shoulder at the recently filled hole. He had eulogized the body, even though he was the only person present. Though he felt conflicted John would not be buried near his parents, Vernon knew he would reconcile the feeling over time. He killed his beer, reached into the water, and produced another one. He depressed the tab, and foam spilled over the lip of the can. He dragged his handkerchief over his brow. It was going to be a hot afternoon indeed.

Andrew Davie has worked as a recruiter for software programmers, an office manager for a theater company, a sell-side stockbroker, and a teacher. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His crime fiction novella Pavement was released by All Due Respect Books in July 2019, and the follow-up Ouroboros is scheduled to be released in December 2020. His other work can be found in links on his website: