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 Post subject: Blood Ties Part 2
PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 12:47 am 
Terrible Dunder Lizard
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Joined: Mon Oct 02, 2006 12:19 am
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Blood Ties, part 2


Claws tapped on the office door. “Mr. Austin? Sorry to bother you, but he’s back.”

“Consarn it, Ray, you know you don’t bother me after lunch!” Carter Austin tried to put sleepiness into his voice. Everyone thought Carter took a nap after lunch. Let Ray think that too.

“I wouldn’t have, but you told me to let you know right away if he ever came back.”

“I’m trying to be patient with you, boy, for your aunt’s sister-in-law’s sake, but sometimes I don’t think the Creator gave you the sense he gave a road-kill possum. Let alone us foxes. What are you talking about? WHO is back?”

“The Horse with the Twisted Lip, sir.”

Carter inhaled sharply. “Hew Boone?”

“Yes, Mr. Austin, sir.”

“Damn. Where is he?”

“Over at Clara’s--”


“Yes, sir. He’s sitting at the bar, drinking Old Rooter applejack straight, big as life.”

“A leaf-eater would just about have to be Hew Boone to go into Clara’s.”

“Yes, sir. There's like to be trouble, so I'd wager he won't be there long.”

Carter tucked the papers into his secret ledger and slipped it into the hidden compartment of Great Grandpappy’s huge roll-top desk. Great Grandpappy had put that compartment there for papers that were better hidden from the Law. Dealings with and for the Clan, mostly, in Great Grandpappy’s day.

Carter used the compartment for much the same purposes. Traditions, the good old ways of doing things, died hard up here in the mountains of the Great State of Crockett.
The compartment had built-in fitted case for a gun, too. Carter’s snubnose revolver and holster didn’t fit it quite right-- some things changed over the years, after all-- but they fit in there well enough.

He pulled the revolver from hiding. Its holster clipped to his trousers, concealing the revolver inside his waistband. He tugged his vest down to conceal the gun better and checked his reflection in the dusty glass of the bookcase doors to be sure. Then he closed and locked the desk’s secret compartment and went to unlock the office door. He never had the secret compartment and the office door unlocked at the same time.

The room outside his office was large, floored with worn, unfinished pine planks. The lower half of the walls was ancient oak wainscoting, the upper half new cheap wallpaper over crumbling plaster. Good, honest beams sawn from the chestnut trees that had once grown in these hills formed trusses overhead. Light bulbs glowed in cages in hanging light fixtures, their shades enameled green outside, white inside.

There were eight desks in the room, all empty. Typewriters on the desks were shrouded in vinyl dust covers. Two of the desks had computers instead. These were still fairly new, but were sitting silent, shrouded against the dust, too.

Somewhere far away across the plant floor a sawblade whined. Good; an order must have come in. That reminded Carter to check his vest and his bushy brown-red tail, to flick off the inevitable flecks of sawdust he’d collected somehow.

“You sure it was Snake Boone?” Carter asked the younger fox.

“He’s hard to mistake.”

“Damn. Well, he won’t stay ‘round long. He never does. I’d best go speak with him now. No, Ray, this isn’t one of them ‘special jobs.’ I don’t need you and Forrest to come along.”
“Is that wise, Mr. Austin? Boone’s a cousin to the Derricks, and the Derricks run for the Westerfields.”

Carter laughed, a single sharp yip, although he let his hand brush his waistband where the revolver rested. “The feuding days are done, son. We mountaineers, all of us, got to band together against the Feds these days. Besides, the leaf-eaters ain’t that loyal to the First Families what runs them, or which once did run them, I'd better say. They been emancipated. Didn’t they teach you that in school?”

“You’re the one who’s always telling me that mountain traditions don’t die, and shouldn’t.”

“Well, true. But this is Hew Boone we’re speaking of, and he wasn’t never loyal to but two things: Money and himself. Don’t worry yourself, Ray. Hew Boone ain't part of no feud, and nothing’s going to happen to me.”

Something bad might happen to somebody else, though. To a coward who’d fled these hills long ago. Carter had sent Ray and Forrest after that coward a little while ago, and for once it looked like those two had done a pretty good job. But Derrick Clydesbank, as Thomas Derrick called himself these days, got away somehow. Seems the Devil always looked after his own.

Which brought Carter back to Hew Boone, who was one of the Devil's own if anyone ever was. Boone might be the one to open the gates of Hell for Clydesbank the assassin. And Clydesbank wouldn’t even know it was coming.

Carter Austin headed out the side door of the sawmill and through the little settlement that surrounded it. He walked toward Clara’s. He let his hand brush the revolver at his waistband again. It was still there, still ready, and so was he.

After all these years the old scores were going to be settled. Ever so slightly, he began to smile, thinking about it.


“You hear me, boy? We don't like hoofers in here. Specially the ugly ones.”

The horse sitting at the bar was, in fact, rather ugly. By his bay color and his large size, he had a lot of Clydesbank blood in him. But he departed from the Clydesbank standard in a number of ways. None of them made him any prettier.

He seemed even a bit taller than the usual Clydesbank, although that might only be the woodsman's cleat-soles he wore strapped and screwed to his hooves. Muscular as any Clyde, he'd gone soft and paunchy around the middle the way Clydes hardly ever did. His tail was the usual Clydesbank black, although it was ragged and studded with burrs. But instead of black his mane was washed-out brown, heavily streaked with a shocking red.

Unlike most Clydes, his mane had also started to go gray with age. Gray streaks might have made another horse look distinguished, but in his case they only made him look scruffy.

The worst thing was the scar, though. It started near the right corner of his mouth, where it pulled his lip up into a perpetual sneer, exposing teeth that were straight enough to suggest superb dental care but yellow enough to suggest no care at all. The scar went across his cheek to his right eye. Beyond the eye it continued to the top of his skull near his ear. The iris of that eye was milky, and its white was bloodshot.

He seemed to be able to see well enough through his right eye, though. Or at least he was content to look the bear who menaced him up and down with it, not turning his head to use the other as he should have if the right eye were blind.

“A little early to be drinkin' heavy and pickin' fights, don't you think?” he said in a friendly tone of voice, raising his own tumbler of applejack to his lips on the side away from the scar and taking a long sip. If there was irony between his words and his actions, he didn't seem aware of it.

The bear growled. “I'm telling you, boy, we don't like your kind in here. Walk out of Clara's while you can still walk.”

“And who's telling me?”

“Bedford MacClough. Now, you ain't from around these parts. You don't know what that means, so I'm going easy on you.”

The horse sipped his applejack again. “I seem to recall the MacCloughs was big in this county. They was straw bosses to one of the first families who ran things round these parts. That's long time gone, though. They ain't amounted to much since the War.

“I done heard of one, though, come to think. Can't rightly recall his name. Lives round these parts, has a name for hangin’ around bars and rolling drunks. Beatin' up smaller folk, shakin' them down for small change. They say he’s a bad ‘un, in a bullyin’ and backstabbin’ kind of way.”

The bear roared and started forward. The horse got up off his bar stool quietly, very quietly, and turned to face him.

“Bedford.” Carter Austin was almost tiny compared to the two would-be combatants, but his voice cut across the smoky old tavern with the sharpness of long command. “Leave this one be. Sit down and have a beer.”

“Mister Austin, he done said--”

Carter chose not to notice that Bedford was trying to speak to him. He turned to the horse. “Do I have the honor of addressing Mister Hew Boone? Snake Boone?”

Bedford MacClough went pale beneath his black fur. He bowed quickly to Carter, mouthing “Yes, sir,” without a sound. He took a seat at the far end of the bar, motioned Clara over and ordered a beer, with a bounce of whiskey too.

The horse nodded. His nod was almost a small bow. “Some call me Snake. I ain't never cared for the name, but you couldn't know, so I ain't fixing to hold it against you.”

“I'm mighty pleased to meet you. Can I buy you a drink?”

“Sure. Let's sit at the table in the corner.” Half hidden by a jukebox that hadn't worked in five years, the table was the most private place in the tavern, unless you wanted to draw attention by having Clara open up one of the sleeping rooms that hadn't been much updated since the stagecoach days. Carter approved. It seemed that Snake Boone was smart enough and professional enough to recognize a business proposition before it even began.

“Clara? Bourbon and ice, and whatever this gentleman was having.”

“Right away, Mister Austin.”

Carter followed Boone to the table. The huge horse sat down on the sturdier-looking of the two bentwood chairs. Carter took the other. Neither said anything until Clara shuffled over, set glasses in front of them, and shuffled off behind the bar again.

Snake lifted his glass in a little toast. “Thanks for gettin' that damfool to back off.”

“I think you could have taken him.”

Boone snorted. “Hell yes I could have taken him! Bar bullies is all the same; hell on wheels until they come up agin someone can fight back. But I don't want to bust him up if there ain’t no reason.”

“Really? I'm surprised. You have a reputation for many things, Mr. Boone, but if you don't mind my saying so, being tender toward the people you fight isn't one of them.”

Boone snorted into his applejack. “Ain't the fightin’ I mind, nor the killin’ neither if it comes to that. It's that there ain't no reason. Hurtin' or killin' folk when you ain't got to ain't efficient.”

“And however good you are, there's always the chance the law might give you trouble.”

“That too, though they’s plenty things worse than the law. Y'all worried about cops?”

“Not too much. I have an understanding with some of the higher authorities. I’m a good citizen, Mr. Boone, and like any honest businessman I make my contributions to all the right campaign funds. If I don’t cause no trouble, then my business is mine, and doesn’t have to interest the... well, a certain Federal agency. I don’t want to draw attention in any way that would break that little agreement.”

“Do tell? I heared you did something t’other day that might have interested the Sheriff and the State Boys, if not the Feds. Somethin' about the brakes goin' wrong on a car.”

“I don’t care to speak on that.”

“Neither would I, if I done such sloppy work. You got some beef ‘ginst this feller what drove that car?”

Carter kept his annoyance hidden from his face. He had to hope his lime cologne covered the scent of his emotions. Or weren’t horses’ noses that good? He didn’t know. He took a deep breath, forced calm into his words, and went on. “There might be some old grudge. If his car went out of control downhill and crashed and kilt him, it might not be more than he deserved. What do you know about my family? The Austins?”

“More’n I should say, maybe.”

“Feel free.”

The big horse sipped his applejack. “One of the First Families of the county since settlement days. Town here’s named after you, and they’s always been an Austin runnin’ the sawmill, and the flour mill too back when they was one. Used to be big in distillin’. Some say they still is.”

“Some say. There’s money in distilling, though the competition's tough. These days there's competition from hemp growers too, not just from other distillers. Now, that’s one dangerous trade, hemp. Takes a tough man to make it in that business.”

Boone lifted his glass to Carter. “So I’ve heard. ‘Course distillin’ ain’t a trade for someone who ain’t got more than his share of sand, neither.”

Carter lifted his glass back. “But you can see, if my family has a reputation for that business, I really don’t care to have the cops nosing around. Whether we really are in that business or not. Some cops get a hint they might catch me in something, and I won’t never get rid of ‘em. They’ll be howling on my trail ‘til the Trump of Doom.”

“Y’all want to do somethin’ you’re afeared might catch their eye, though?”

“I might. What I want done first, the law itself should have done. But it didn’t. If the law won’t do the right thing--”

The horse sipped his whiskey. “Then there are other ways. I'm listenin'. I ain't promising nothin', and we're just talkin' like friends over a drink, right?”

“Of course.”

The horse put down his glass and looked into Carter’s eyes.

“All right,” Carter said. “The horse who was drivin' that car that crashed. I'll say out front he's your kin. He was born Thomas Derrick but he goes by Derrick Clydesbank these days.”

“I heared of him. Went to college, works in the city. Done good by hisself. They say he owns land around these parts, here and there. Never lacks for money. Nobody knows how he got it. That always makes a fellow wonder, don’t it? Got to be somethin’ to it he wouldn’t want known in the light of day. But he ain't been in trouble with the law neither, not that I heared.”

“Do you feel-- If you had to let something bad happen to him, well, he is kin, right?”

“He ain't never done nothin’ for me. I don't owe him nothin’. Go on. I'm listenin', you're buyin' the drinks.”

“Well. There’s lots of secrets about Clydesbank. Lots of things ain’t nobody knows.

“I lost my folks in the Clan poisoning, all them years ago. Lot of good, honest folk, the best people of the county, died 'cause Death Cap mushrooms ended up in the stew at the Clan's November banquet. County ain't been the same since. Feds running the place, state cops, sticking their noses in everything, a businessman can't make an honest dollar around here no more.”

“Sad,” Boone said, sipping his applejack. He motioned to Clara, who brought him more. Carter hadn't finished his first bourbon yet. “And this Derrick poisoned the stew? I can't stand poisoners. Poison, now, that's cold.”

“I heard whispers he was in these hills when the stew got poisoned. Whispers, just whispers. They died down, 'cause nobody can see how he could possibly have done it. Them mushrooms weren't even known in these hills before the Clan died of 'em, but they're all over the place now.”

Snake nodded. “So maybe he done it, maybe not. It was good clean work, if it was work at all, but it ain’t certain enough to be much of a reason for y’all to be doin’ somethin’ rash.”

“Well, that's not all. I had an uncle, too. Derrick Clydesbank was at the Knob Pass Inn and threw Uncle Jim Roy out the night he died. Jim Roy's truck went over the cliff out on Highway 17 'cause the brakes went bad on his truck and the driveshaft fell out too, just happened to be at the same time, you know? Just by chance. And Derrick Clydesbank was there when it did.”

“So y’all, or someone, saw to it Clydesbank had the same accident just t’other night. That weren’t smart. Y’all don’t think he could connect them two accidents? Somebody done told him he’s bein’ hunted, and pretty much told him you’re the one doin’ the huntin’.”

Carter sipped his whiskey and scowled. Ray and Forrest were kin, and loyal, but he couldn’t say the quality of their work impressed him none. Clydesbank wasn’t supposed to have survived that crash! “Sure looks that way,” he said, muttering into his glass.

“Again, if Clydesbank fixed your uncle’s truck, that's clean work. But was it work at all? Trucks crash, special if the driver’s drunk enough he got hisself bounced out of the bar. Y'all have any proof there’s anythin’ more to it than that?”

“I know he worked on Uncle Jim Roy’s truck. I can’t prove nothing, but I know what I know.”

“Y'all tried to get the cops to look into your uncle's truck crash?”

“No. By the time I started sniffing around there weren't no evidence left. You'd think a word from me might get some charges placed, or at least get this Derrick brung back for an interrogation. But the State Boys or even the Sheriff ain't got the respect for the first families of the county that they should, that they used to, and the Feds never did nohow. They won't do nothing about Uncle Jim Roy now. I asked them. They done nothing. They say if I thought there was something strange about Uncle Jim Roy’s accident, I should have told them back then.”

“And y’all didn’t. Why?”

“I wasn’t much more’n a kit back then. Like you say, he crashed, people crash. It happens. I didn’t suspect nothing until years later, something else made me suspicious.”

“What was it?”

“There’s these small-time distillers runnin’ operations in the county. There always has been, but now these small timers are givin’ the professionals a bad name, makin’ it hard for us- I mean them.”

“And takin’ customers away from the better businesses? Go on, I’m listenin.’”

“Taking customers away too. These small-time trash going to make enough noise that the Alkies won’t have no choice but to come nosin’ around. When that happens, all the businessmen in the county gonna suffer, right?

“So one of these small-timers is the Tuckers. At first I just want to get at them on general principles, right? Because they’re going to bring the Feds down on us all.

“Now, they's two Tucker brothers, Dale and Billy. They both make ‘shine. Billy, he’s small fry. Not worth botherin’ with, but being a good citizen, a couple months ago I gave the Sheriff a word to the wise. But that damned goat-- how we ever got a leaf-eater--” Carter glanced at Snake and swallowed hard. “I mean, I told him ‘bout Billy’s still, but he didn’t do nothing. I can’t stand a corrupt cop.”

Snake sipped his applejack. “Shocking,” he said dryly.

“I thought so. Billy’s brother Dale was another matter. He was the bigger operator. The biggest of the small operators, I mean.

“A while back somebody tipped the Alkies on him, and we got him out of the way for good. Or I thought we had. He was in court, and should have got a sentence to keep him in ‘til his fur was all gray, but he got a damned petifoggin’ lawyer who got him off with a two year sentence. After all the time and.. fees.. it cost to get the Alkies to take interest in him in the first place, he gets off with a two-year sentence ‘cause he had some high-priced lawyer. And that's what led me to Derrick Clydesbank.”

“I don't see no connection.”

“Well, neither did I, but after Dale got a slap on the wrist it got me thinkin'. Who hired that expensive lawyer for him, all secret-like? I found out it was this here Derrick Clydesbank.

“I started looking into his past. ‘Course I knew the basics. Derrick Clydesbank’s real name is Thomas Derrick, damned coward changed it to help hide hisself from his betters when he was younger-- anyhow, the Derricks was neighbors to the Tuckers, not kin. But when Clydesbank was little he lost his folks-- in an accident-- and the Tuckers took him in for a while. Clydesbank ended up in an orphanage in Wiltonburg, but he and the Tuckers kept in touch.

“Now he’s paying for Dale’s lawyer, on the sly. What else is he doing that he wouldn’t want nobody knowing about?

“I got to wonderin’ about Uncle Jim Roy, and when he had his accident, Clydesbank was the last to see him before it happened. And when my folks was poisoned they say Clydesbank was around. And other good people had accidents, and for a lot of ‘em Clydesbank was around. Always Clydesbank. If it hadn’t a been for hirin’ that lawyer for Dale Tucker, I never would a figured it out.”

Boone blinked. “It’s always the little things that trip you up.”

“Yes. Good thing to keep in mind. So anyhow, I start wondering if something bad might happen to Clydesbank. But it ain’t easy. He’s a coward and a sneak. He don’t never come here for long at a time, and you never know when he will.

“Only time I knew he would be in these hills for sure was when Ma Tucker busted her leg. He came here just like I expected. Damned near didn’t get away again neither.”

“Y’all want this Derrick Clydesbank to have an accident hisself, then? And a good one this time. Y’all got anythin’ particular in mind?”

“No, long’s it hurts. Seems to me first thing is to get him up here into the hills, on our ground. I don’t know how to trouble him where he lives, but I ain’t got no idea how to get him to come back here neither. I was thinking to trouble the Tuckers more, that might get Derrick to come back, but would it? It did the once. It might again.”

Boone sipped his applejack. “It might,” he allowed. “Depends on what kind of trouble. Sometimes critters have more loyalty to their kin than you’d think.”

“Couldn’t have the Law in it. I can’t get the Law too interested in the distilling business in these hills.”

“It just might be something could be done. The Tuckers might have some trouble, at least. They might have to give up moonlight work. Might be something could happen to this Derrick too, even where he lives. But if you found somebody to take the job, they wouldn't come cheap.”

“How much is 'not cheap'?”

“Twenty thousand bux might do it.”

“Twenty thousand!” Carter swallowed hard.

“You ain’t got that much?”

He could come up with half that, maybe, but it would break him. “Business hasn’t been the best lately.”

“Take it or leave it. You’ll need ten up front, the rest three weeks after.”

Carter had an idea. He tried to hide a smile. “I can do that.”

“Good. Y’all know where County C-105 meets State 17?”


“They’s a sign there for the Telstar Motel what burnt. Big pine snag beside it, burnt out, has a holler in the side. Put ten thousand in that holler, to start.”

“And when would... they... start work?”

“Day after the money shows up.”

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Boone.”

“Don’t mention it.” Carter had a feeling Boone meant that literally. With a little nod, Boone got up and walked out of the tavern.


Billy Tucker pulled the old pickup up to the pumps. He got out, started the pump, put the nozzle in place and started it filling the truck’s tank. Then he walked around and grabbed the old, gray, galvanized gasoline can, a five gallon can probably older than he was, and walked to the side of the station, where the white gas pump was.

“Hey, Clyde.”

“Hey, Billy. Anything in the air?”

Billy made a big show out of raising his head and sniffing the air. Bears had great noses, everybody knew that. Didn’t hurt none to have Clyde think he could smell a change in the weather, even though he couldn’t. Well, not usually, lessen there was snow.

“Might be some rain coming,” he allowed. He set the can down, unscrewed the cap, and started filling it from the white gas pump.

“Hate to tell you this, but I’m probably not gonna carry that white gas much longer.”

“Dang,” Billy said, watching the colorless stuff flow into the can. “I hate to buy that there ‘lantern fuel’ at the Lo-Bux in Wiltonburg. Same danged stuff as this, but you buy it in the gallon can and throw away the can when you’re done, and at four, five times the price. You stop carrying it Lo-Bux is the only place left I can get white gas for my lanterns at all.”

“There just ain’t the market for it any more. Most folk have ‘lectric at home these days, even way up in the hollers. I sell it to folk for their huntin’ camps, or tent campin’ folk up from the City, or folk runnin’ coons in the woods at night, but they only uses a gallon or so at a time. Ain’t hardly nobody uses white gas steady no more.”

Clyde didn’t ask why Billy needed so much white gas, or what Billy was doing at night someplace off the electricity grid. It wasn’t polite to ask too many questions up in the mountains of Crockett.

“Well, it’s a shame. Guess I’ll keep buying from you long’s I can. Let me know if ya do decide to stop selling, maybe I can lay in a big supply. By the way, you seed any strangers around here, snoopin’ around?”

“The usual flatlanders going to their huntin’ camps or summer cabins. Or wandered off the State Route and wantin’ nothin’ but to get back to it. Anyone in particular?”

“No, no, I just smelt somebody in the woods. Saw some tracks. Made me think somebody mighta been watchin’ me, or followin’ maybe.”

“Y’all be careful, Billy. They’s dangerous folk in the hills, and some more than others. I even heared Snake Boone’s been seed.”

“Snake Boone’s gone to his reward, since that Alkie raid on the weed fields.”

“So they says, but then they’s seed him walkin’ around, just last week, over near Astin’s sawmill.”

“Well, maybe. I’ll be careful.”

“I see anyone nosin’ around, I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks. You’re a good friend, Clyde.”

Snake Boone. Billy thought about that, driving the pickup, creeping up the rocky trail toward the old farmstead where he kept his still hid these days. It couldn’t be Snake Boone. But if it was, Billy was in past his depth. He trusted his nose, but Snake was one fellow Billy would never smell coming.

What could he do? It might be good to shut down for a while. Maybe he should ask Derrick. Derrick knew a lot about things you wouldn’t think he could, sometimes.

Here was the old Jenkins farm. It was in a little hollow high up on the side of the mountain. The view to the west could take his breath away, even though he’d lived in these hills all his life. He could see why Old Man Jenkins had stayed up here, even though the soil wasn’t worth the plowing.

The house had been built of sawn lumber; it was a small wonder that Old Man Jenkins had found the money for that, poor as his farm was. It had fallen in last year, after Old Man Jenkins died. The barn, though, had been made of cheaper stuff; logs sawn on the land, mortar from limestone ground up and burned on site and mixed with sand, half trees for roof beams and galvanized sheet metal for a roof. It was too solid for comfort; digging the escape tunnel through the foundation and the rocky soil had left every bone in his body aching for a week. But it made a fine place to hide a still.

Billy grabbed the can of white gas and headed for the barn. He stopped in the doorway. He smelled fox.

The click of a revolver hammer being pulled back was unmistakable. “Good to see y’all finally. C’mon in and make yourself to home. Here. Now.”

In the cow stall right next to the door, surrounded by straw, stood a horse who looked like he only had one eye. With a mountaineer’s eye for weapons, Billy identified the revolver pointed his way as an Army surplus forty-five; a mean, mean old gun, and the hand that held it was absolutely steady. Billy wasn’t used to fear, but he felt it now. If he tried to run, he’d be a bloody rug in an instant.

He was so impressed by the revolver-- looked like you could a drove a train down its barrel-- that it took him a few seconds to notice the fox. He stood in the shadows to the side. A mask hid his face, and lime scent hid his own scent.

“Get the hell in here,” the horse growled.

“What are you doing--”

“Blowin’ out a damfool’s brains lessen you get in here and do as you’s told. Look at this fool,” the gunman said, turning his head toward the masked fox. “He stinks of licorice, just like my friend said he would. Smelt him comin’ a hundred yards off ‘cause of that.”
Billy blinked. “Licorice?”

“Get the hell in here! Hands behind your back!”

Billy studied the horse behind the revolver. After a moment, very quietly, he set the gas can down and walked slowly into the stall. He tried to read something in the horse’s horrible eyes. The horse grabbed his wrist, shockingly fast and strong. Handcuffs clicked closed; Billy hissed as they bit tight. He was jerked to his knees, and then there was another click and the handcuffs were locked to something in the wall behind him.

The horse held a big, clunky portable telephone to Billy’s ear. He punched a number, waited, waited, waited...

“Y’all never mind who. Listen if you know what’s good for you.”

He took the phone and jammed it to the side of Billy’s head. “Tell him who you are, your name, and that you’re alive.”

“Hello? Hello? It’s Billy Tucker. I’m locked up--”

“Good enough.” The horse put the phone back to his own ear. “Y’all hear that? Never mind who. Y’all just listen and do as you’s told. Fifty thousand bux. Bring it to the old Jenkins farm, you know where. Come alone. What? Tomorrow night. Don’t give me none of that. Y’all got the money, or can get it. No, y’all better not-- you’s late, I gets me a new bearskin rug.” The horse laughed at his own humor. “All the same to me. Be here. Tomorrow night.”

The horse, Snake Boone, it had to be Snake Boone, pulled down the phone’s antenna and shut it down. He made sure Billy’s handcuffs were locked solid to the wall. Then he walked out of the barn door and into the sunlight. The masked fox followed.

Billy wondered if he’d ever walk in the sunlight himself, ever again. But there was something else going on here. Licorice?


Boone led Carter out into the clearing. “Well, that’s it, then. Y’all shouldn’t be here to see the end of it.”

Carter nodded, removing his mask. He looked suspicious. “How’d you call Clydesbank? Didn’t know cell phones worked up here.”

“Oh, that? Ain’t a cell. Satellite phone. Voice alterin’, when you push this here button like I did. Picked it up from one of my former buddies in the Special Forces. Don’t worry, he didn’t need it no more. Satellite phone’s damned hard to trace, even if y’all knows how.”

Carter nodded. He walked off, toward a little Fourster Mountain Goat four-wheel-drive almost hidden in the brush at the edge of the clearing.

“Don’t come back,” Boone called after him. The horse opened his revolver’s cylinder to check the load, nodded, then holstered the gun. “Don’t come back. Y’all don’t want to know.”


But Carter Austin was back, the next night, lurking in the woods behind the barn.

Whatever else he might be, Snake Boone wasn’t native to these valleys. He came from the next county over.

That wasn’t enough to make much of a difference, but Carter was pretty sure Snake didn’t know every creek, valley, and trail here the way he did. And that might give Carter the edge he needed against the big horse.

That and the fact that Snake Boone didn’t know Carter planned to kill him.

Boone had said the old Jenkins place was perfect for their needs because it only had one road in and out. Carter knew that was wrong. Boone hadn’t known that a tiny coal pit, a thin vein where locals had come for years to get stove coal for free, lay only half a mile from the old Jenkins place, across the ridge. You reached it up a trail that went nowhere near the Jenkins farmstead. Carter could drive the Fourster to the coal pit, come in on the Jenkins place from behind, and Boone would never know he was there.

He might get his ten thousand bux back. He might get the fifty thousand Derrick Clydesbank would be bringing. In any case, he would get rid of Snake Boone before the ten thousand he owed Boone, the ten thousand he couldn’t get, came due.

The trail across to the Jenkins place was an easy one. Probably Jenkins had fueled his stove from the pit himself. In the gathering darkness, Carter settled down with his lever-action rifle and waited.

The sun set. It was only a day past full moon, so it wouldn’t be a dark night, but even so the gathering darkness seemed profound. The glare of a white-gas lantern, whiter and harsher than electric light, leaked out of the log barn where the metal sheets of its roof overlapped and gapped. The log walls themselves were too tight for any light to seep through. There didn’t appear to be a door anywhere except for the big one on the end of the barn toward the trail down the mountain.

Silence, or near silence, for a long time. It got darker, then a bit lighter as the moon began to rise on the other side of the ridge. Once, he thought he heard muffled shouts, and the sound of blows. Other than that nothing but the breeze, the insects, the night birds.
Was that the sound of gears and a powerful engine, far away?

Yes! Some heavy vehicle was creeping forward in low gear. It was coming nearer. It had to be Derrick Clydesbank, coming to his doom.

He couldn’t see from here. Carter eased into the clearing. Keeping to the shadows, he positioned himself near the ruins of the Jenkins farmhouse. The truck, whatever it was, kept coming closer.

Lights, fog lights and not full powered headlights, shone through the trees. Lurching, the silver van eased into the clearing. It stopped. Its powerful engine shut down.

The door opened and somebody got out. Carter had never seen Derrick Clydesbank in person, but by the Goddess of Sharp Teeth, he was big! He was almost as tall as Snake Boone, but without Boone’s paunch.

Clydesbank seemed to be injured, though. He got out of the van awkwardly. He had one arm in a sling. Once out, he reached back into the van with his good hand and pulled out a briefcase and a cane, an expensive-looking thing of silver and ebony. Then he limped across the clearing, leaning on the cane. He walked into the pool of glare spilling out from the barn, and on in through the barn door.

Carter waited.

He waited.

And he waited. What was Boone doing? How long could...

BOOM. A deep, hollow explosion, the roar of a large-caliber firearm with a low muzzle velocity. Like the revolver Snake Boone carried. Carter had almost convinced himself that would be the end of it when he heard it again: BOOM. A second shot. It was all over, then. Carter had had two enemies inside the barn, and now there had been two executions.


What? A third shot? What the hell was going on? Carter thumbed the hammer back on his rifle and hurried, silently, to the barn door.

He looked in. The white gas lanterns lit the scene with a glare that seemed brighter than noonday sun.

In the middle of the barn, the still stood, its chimney passing up through the roof. The still was running; a fire burned beneath it, steam oozed from its joints. A shelf of glass jugs and jars of clear liquid stood near. Moonshine dripped from the end of the condensing coil into another jar of clear liquid.

In the back of the barn, at the base of an immense stack of old dry hay, lay a body dressed like Snake Boone. There was another, bigger body in the stall near the door, where Billy Tucker had been handcuffed. At the base of the shelves of moonshine jugs lay another body dressed as Clydesbank had been. A briefcase lay beside it.

Carter crept into the barn. He kept his rifle cocked. Derrick Clydesbank seemed to be dead on the floor. He didn’t move, anyway. Billy and Snake weren’t moving either.

Goddess! They’d all killed each other. He couldn’t believe his luck. All he had to do was grab the money and leave! He uncocked his rifle. He bent over and reached down for the briefcase.

There was something wrong with Clydesbank’s body. There was straw poking out of the gaps in the clothing...

And a rustle, something moving in the straw behind him.

Carter spun, pulling his rifle up into firing position again. Somebody, some big horse-- he couldn’t tell if it was Derrick Clydesbank or Snake Boone-- seemed to be rising out of the ground near the barn’s downhill wall. The horse had a rifle too, a strange one; stubby, without much of a grip. Or was it just that cane Clydesbank had been leaning on whenhe walked in here?

The rifle- for it had to be some kind of rifle- made a small sound, like SPATTT! The horse, whoever he was, couldn’t have missed at this range. Yet somehow, he missed!

Or had he? Glass shattered. One of the gallon jugs on the shelves blew into a thousand pieces. Carter hit the straw-covered floor as the shower of moonshine soaked him to the skin and soaked the straw and he’d hit the shelves as he started to dive for cover and they were going to topple too, all those glass jugs...

But the moonshine that had soaked him didn’t smell like moonshine. It smelled like gasoline.

White gas, lantern fuel, nearly explosive...

And everything went orange. Heat washed over him.


It had been a long time since Lieutenant Briley had had Derrick Clydesbank visit his office. But of course he remembered to put the guest chair to the side of his desk and put the two-seat miniature couch in front of the desk for his oversized guest. The side chair would work fine for his other Sergeant Cobb.

He had to smile as Derrick came in. Derrick was a little hesitant, almost shy, the way he usually was. It was almost cute. You weren’t supposed to let species prejudice affect your work, but he liked the horses, especially the big drafters. There was just something sweet and harmless about them.

“Welcome, Derrick. Good to see you again. This is Sergeant Cobb of the Crockett State Police Investigative Bureau. Have a seat?”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. Pleased to meet you, Sergeant. I understand that my recent actions have caused you a certain amount of irritation. I sincerely apologize for that.”

Cobb growled. He was of the terrier line, and they always seemed to think they had something to prove. “Why would we be mad at you? You just ignored our calls for almost two weeks, that’s all.”

“I apologize again. I was on vacation, and I seem to have forgotten to recharge my phone. I must admit I might have been less than conscientious in maintaining its battery charge. I’ve long felt that it isn’t really a vacation if you’re carrying your cell phone with you wherever you go.”

“So what did you do on your vacation up in the mountains near Austin’s Mill?” Cobb asked.

“Austin’s Mill? I regret that somebody has misinformed you, sir. I spent my vacation performing some amateur theatrics while visiting some cousins of mine. I’m even credited in the Shearford Festival’s production of Richard the Third. I can get you a copy of the program if you’d wish.”

“Richard the Third? The one with ‘My kingdom for a horse?’”

“Exactly, sir. You can guess which part was mine; Poitiers, the horse who rescued Richard from the battlefield and then accompanied him to his final triumph at the Battle of Lancaster. It is a little-known fact-- little known except to members of the Clydesbank clan, of course-- that Poitiers was a Clydesbank himself. We were bred as warriors, you understand, and we fought on that battlefield as on many others. It’s rather astonishing to think that one of my distant ancestors is entombed in Westminster Cathedral.”

“Are there any witnesses...” Cobb groaned. “The Shearford Festival. The audiences are enormous. Of course there were witnesses.”

“Yet someone reported that I had been in Crockett, sir?”

“There was an accident there. It was a fire that claimed the life of a leading citizen of the region, a gentleman who was a close personal friend of Senator Bird. The Senator wants the truth of the case, right now. And so do I.”

“Might I repeat my question? Did some person report seeing me in Crockett? I assure you, sir, I was acting. I was engaged in playing a role, as I told you.”

“A young fox named Ray McCoy, who worked for the victim, said he’d overheard his boss say you were coming to the area.”

“And did Mr. McCoy supply any further details?”

“Um.. no.” Cobb seemed angry about something. Perhaps there was something about McCoy’s testimony that Cobb didn’t want getting out.

“Well, that doesn’t sound especially reliable, sir. And even if someone thought they saw me in Crockett, how could they be sure that it was me and not some other Clydesbank? Others of my kin live in that region, and we do tend to look alike.”

Briley’s eyes widened for a moment. Clydesbanks looked alike, and Derrick Clydesbank had said he’d gone to stay with some of his cousins in Shearford. How could anyone be sure that the horse on stage in the Shearford festival had been Derrick, and not some other Clydesbank? Especially since a stage performer would be trying to use a stage voice, and would be wearing makeup, which would make identification that much harder.

But that was silly. This was Derrick he was thinking about. Working on the Nan Fairweather case had taught him Derrick’s strengths and weaknesses. Derrick was earnest, hard-working, and in the long run quite intelligent; but he was slow-moving, placid, sweet, and if he figured things out well in the end, it sure took him a long time. A master conspirator Derrick was not.

Cobb sighed. “I’d so hoped you could clear up the case for us.”

“I’m sorry to have to disappoint you, sir. You know it is a matter of great pleasure to me to assist the police in their inquiries, when it is possible for me to do so.”

Cobb said “You see, I don’t think the death was an accident. Let’s just say that the victim should have been aware of the fire danger in... what he was doing... where he was doing it. It makes me suspicious when somebody dies under those circumstances.”

“I can see it would, sir, but even experts make mistakes sometimes. I could tell you about an incident of that kind, repairing the brakes on my car, if I could stand the embarrassment of speaking about it.”

“Indeed. Do you happen to know a distant cousin of yours, Hew Boone? Goes by the nickname of Snake.”

“Anyone who lived in that part of Crockett knows of Snake Boone, sir. I can’t say I ever met him in person, however.”

“And of course you’d have no idea where he might be.”

“No. And I’m rather glad I don’t. He has the reputation of being a dangerous fellow. The further his life is kept from mine, the safer I will be.”

“That’s a bit of an understatement. But since he’s a cousin, you might cover for him, if you did happen to know where he was.”

Derrick smiled a small smile. “All the more reason for me to be glad that I honestly don’t know where he is, or what happened to him. I’d heard the Alkies killed him. I almost believed it this time. Is there anything else?”

“Not at this time.”

“Thank you, sir.” Derrick rose from his seat.

“But in a hypothetical sense, you might cover for him.”

“In a hypothetical sense, perhaps. Blood ties are the tightest ones of all. But I think you can trust me to do the right thing, whenever the chips are down.”

“Whatever the right thing might be.”

Derrick smiled slightly. “Good day, Sergeant Cobb. Good day, Lieutenant.”

The End

 Post subject: Re: Blood Ties Part 2
PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 5:42 am 
SLOP Editor-in-Beef
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Joined: Sun Oct 01, 2006 4:59 am
Posts: 143
Location: Ohio
Another great episode in the life of my favorite Clydesdale.
Very well written well paced, but slightly predictable.
But then we do know of this special equine from his past stories.
Thank you ever so much for sharing this story with us.

Four legs good, two legs bad. (G. Orwell)

 Post subject: Re: Blood Ties Part 2
PostPosted: Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:52 pm 
Dirty Ol' Man
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Joined: Tue Oct 03, 2006 4:02 pm
Posts: 574
Location: On the buckle of the bible belt
Ramseys wrote:
Thank you ever so much for sharing this story with us.

Aye, Uncle seconds that motion.


Emoticons are the wheelchair ramps for the humor impaired.

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