by John King
The dark feathers of the crow stained crimson against the headlights of the smashed car. The bird watched the boy stoop over her – the young man’s hands cupping her where her body twisted apart. It happened when the car rolled down the sloped hill, stringing her fragile body along the summer grass. He tried holding her together as the headlights shone on them, her head slipping back and forth. The crow stood within the stream of light and watched them, its one eye unblinking.
“Charles, you done eating yet?” his wife Mary asked. “I wanna get to town before lunch.” She walked into the kitchen and sat down beside her husband who didn’t bother to answer. She put her hand on his and he looked at her. “You gonna take care of Christopher?”
“Yes,” Charles answered.
“You done yet?”
He pushed his bowl of oatmeal away. Mary collected the dish and walked to the sink. He liked the way she sounded in the kitchen. The way she moved her ceramic dishes around; the way she stood against the morning light that eased through the window above the sink.
He left her and walked upstairs to his son’s bedroom.
“How’s Chris today?” he asked leaning against his son’s bedroom door frame. There was no answer. Charles walked to his son’s bed. He sat down and poked at the silent ball covered by blankets.
“She was here last night you know,” Chris said.
“Who was here?”
Charles remembered her then. It was a spring day when she wore a light-blue dress that hung around her ankles. She walked up the driveway and Charles had watched her from the kitchen window. She had never known it, but she reminded him of his wife on the days he walked with Mary to the lake on the hill. He used to go there with Mary in spring when it rained.
“Why don’t you take that blanket off so I can see you? It’s time to get up. You missed your breakfast by the way,” Charles said, pulling at the blanket to look over the unshaven face of his son. “It’s time to get up, huh, kid. You could go for a walk, you know, or take the car and go for a drive.”
“You know mom doesn’t let me drive anymore,” Chris said.
“Well, she’s going to town. What she doesn’t know can’t hurt her now, can it?”
“Get dressed kid. I’ll leave the key to the old truck on the kitchen table.”
“Where you going?”
“Oh, I have a few things to take care of today.”
“Yeah, real important. You take your pills this morning?”
“Don’t forget. You need some light in here,” Charles said. He walked over to his son’s bedroom window and opened the blinds. Chris threw the blankets back over his head and groaned. “Make sure you take your pills,” Charles added.
Reaching for the door, Charles stopped a moment to look back at his son who had sat up – the blanket thrown on the floor. “You okay son?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Chris answered.
“Good. Get out of bed.”
“What if I told you I saw the future?”
“I’d tell you to take your pills.”
Chris laughed. “Of course you would.”
Charles closed the door and walked back downstairs. Mary had left, the butt of her cigarette smouldered in the ashtray. Charles put on his jean jacket and left the key to the old truck on the kitchen table.
Outside he breathed in the late-autumn air. He looked at the trees and watched as their limbs tugged in the wind. In his truck, Charles turned on the radio as he passed his new tractor that cost him his retirement money. Charles listened to the news. Another yard had been broken into – this time the owner was on the radio.
“These damned thieves. I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen anything like it, two tractor-trailers just gone. No witnesses, no broken fence or gate, makes no sense if you ask me. No goddamn sense. They were just gone,” the stunned man said over the radio.
Charles turned off the radio and hung a right into a driveway lined with baby pine trees. He pulled up to the small, white house at the end of the driveway and parked. The house sat within a copse of birch trees; the markings on their peeling-white bark made Charles feel like a bunch of eyes stared at him. Opening the screen door of the house, he knocked and waited.
Josephine opened the door and smiled. “Charlie. It’s been so long.”
“It has, how are you Josephine?” Charles asked.
“Well fine I guess, same old same old – you know. Wanna come in?”
“I would like that. I would. But I’m here to see Jim.”
“Jim? He went up into the fields this morning, early you know. Up at the crack of dawn every morning that Jim of mine – checking on things. You know how Jim is.”
“Some things never change huh?”
“No, guess not Charlie.”
“Well, I’ll just walk on up there then.”
“We’ll be seeing you.”
He turned, the stones underneath of feet crushing.
“Oh Charlie?” Josephine asked.
Charles turned around and watched her open the screen door a little wider as she stepped out.
“How’s Chris doing?”
“He’s good Josephine. He’s doing just all right.”
“That’s good to hear, Charlie.”
“You take care now, Josephine.”
He listened as she retreated back into her house. He fetched his cigarettes and lit a smoke as he walked up the hill.
Up an old road where willows had taken over and the wind moved clouds to cover the sun – the tops of long grass swayed. Hidden in an old black poplar tree was a falling-down fort made of barn wood. When looking at the old fort, Charles almost ran into Jim.
“Still taking your eye off the road I see,” Jim said taking Charles into a bear hug. “That’s right Jim.”
“Well, I was just coming in off the fields, but since you’re here we might as well go on back. I have something to show you, Charlie, something I’m sure you’d like to see.”
The pair walked up the slope to where Jim wanted to take Charles.
“You believe in angels, my friend?” Jim asked.
“Well, I’m still god-fearing if that’s what you mean.”
Jim laughed and slapped his old friend on the back. “Sure Charlie, that’s what I mean.”
Charles could see something white in the distance as they left the trees and walked across a wheat field, clipped of its crop days before, towards Jim’s grazing land.
“You see that?” Jim asked.
“What is it?”
“It’s a dead buffalo.”
“A dead what?”
“A dead buffalo.”
“It looks white from here.”
“Well, that’s because it is Charlie.”
“I didn’t know you kept buffalo.”
“Yep, since a couple of years ago, I’ve had this one longer, don’t know where it come from – just wandered in off the range I guess.”
Charles peered down at the carcass once the pair reached the dead buffalo. The cow’s throat had been slit and blood drained from its body.
“Well, whatcha make of it?” Jim asked.
“I don’t know Jim.”
“Throat cut wide open.”
“Looks that way.”
“Had her a long time, kept her a secret, told no one.”
Charles stepped back and lit another smoke. The wind whipped about as the small herd of buffalo collected around the pair with their big wide eyes staring at the two men – curious of the visitor. A giant bull stepped forward.
“Here’s Mr. Beans. He’s a soldier Charlie. Had some problems with them wolves last year, you know, and Mr. Beans here speared one right through its gut, had to pull it off his horns. I came up to check on things, and here was Mr. Beans walking around with a speared wolf hanging from his horns. Quite a sight it was, quite a sight.”
The bull dipped its head and nudged the fallen member of its herd. The pair of men watched until Jim looked away. “Why are you here Charlie?” he asked.
Charles didn’t answer right away. Instead he looked down at the white buffalo’s dry blood on the range. “I need a favour,” he said.
“Favour? Been a long time for favours don’t you think old friend?”
“What does this white buffalo have to do with angels Jim?”
Jim bent down and touched the animal’s head and peered into its lifeless eyes. “I don’t really know, but it must be a miracle this buffalo, huh Charlie, a miracle. I hear of them you know, of white buffaloes. This one just wondered in off the range. The way I figure it, I was supposed to have her and now she’s dead. I wanna find the bastard who cut her wide open and bled her. If I do, maybe I’ll cut’em wide open like they did her. Must be a miracle though, this buffalo.”
“There’ve been a lot of miracles happening around here wouldn’t you say Jim?”
“What’er you getting at Charlie?”
“I wanna know who’s been stealing equipment from yards.”
Jim stood up and took a quick look around even though the land was empty. “Well, Charlie, I couldn’t tell you that.”
“You always knew what went on in town.”
“Now why you wanna know a thing like this anyway Charlie? It’s been a long time since you come out last to visit me and Josephine.”
“Your boy gone crazy now I hear?”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“Damn shame. I was there you know, at her funeral.”
“I know Jim.”
“She was damn pretty you know.”
“Damn pretty. I hear about it, about what happened at the courts. I hear nothing’s going to come of it. Charlie, I did everything I could.”
“I know Jim. I know you did everything you could.”
“Well, it’s a real son-of-a-bitch. I want to help you old friend. But you stand here with me, here with my secret and you ask for favours. So I’m gonna ask you again, why you wanna know this thing you ask me?”
It was an ugly case and Derrick Sommers, the town’s Crown prosecutor, knew so the minute it was slapped down onto his desk by one of the law clerks who was close to the family and wanted justice done.
He had poured through the files that night drinking beer and eating pretzels until dawn broke through the curtain of his apartment downtown and he could no longer see straight. He took a cold shower that morning and drank a whole pot of coffee to himself before leaving – walking down the stairs to his car. The car wouldn’t start, and instead of phoning for a taxi, Derrick walked to work. He had forgotten what it felt like to walk to work.
The justice-seeking clerk was the first to greet him in the morning.
“There’s just simply not enough evidence,” he told her.
Her reproachful glances from that day onward made him the least popular person in the office for as long as he was to stay in town.
“That’s not good enough,” she told him, following Derrick into his office. “There must be something, something to put him away.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“I’m sure that’s it.”
She slammed the door behind her when she left his office, and he slid down into his chair before his boss William called. Derrick picked up the phone.
“So what’s going on with the hit-and-run case?” William asked.
“With what case sir?”
“Hit and run. You know the one where the Indian girl was-”
“You can spare me the details sir, I know the case you’re talking about.”
“You sure this is the right work for you Sommers? You know, the diner down the street is looking for a cook, maybe that’s better suited for you? Oh, wait a second – you have a weak stomach as it is – so I guess cooking is out. Especially since you’re a what – a vegan? You couldn’t bear to stare down at them frying eggs could you?”
“I don’t see what fried eggs have to do-”
“You getting fresh with me Sommers? Tell me what you’ve got because I’ve got all sorts of heat on me and I’m telling them I got my best man on it. Do I Sommers?”
“Do you what sir?”
“Have my best man on it?”
“Well, sir, I don’t think you do.”
“What in the hell do you mean Sommers?”
“I mean, sir, I can’t win this case.”
“Can’t win the case?”
“No sir, can’t win.”
“You tell that to him then, he’s waiting to talk to you.”
“I have the statement he gave police right here in front of me. I don’t think I need anything else, sir.”
“Don’t you ‘sir’ me Sommers. He’s in the lobby and you’re going to give him the answers he’s looking for.”
William hung up the phone just as Derrick’s secretary buzzed him.
“Ah, Christopher Graydon is here to see you,” she said over Derrick’s speaker phone as the Crown prosecutor cringed in his leather seat.
“Oh let him in then will ya.”
“Well, you’re the seventh to be hit Mr. Graydon. I don’t understand it myself. It’s got everybody scratching their heads you know, even them city slickers down South who’ve come up here to do our work for us,” RCMP sergeant Kyle Norman said. The law man stared over at Charlie who leaned against a fence post looking at the small piece of land where he had parked his brand new tractor the night before.
“There’s no use in getting spun up about it is there?” Charlie asked.
“No, like I said, you’re not the only one. Good thing your insurance is in order. Old Jackie Boy down on the river wasn’t so lucky you know.”
“I heard about that.”
“You and everybody else.”
Mary pulled into the yard. The sergeant excused himself. When the RCMP cruiser left, a trail of dust lifted into the air. Mary saddled her car up to her husband.
“You gonna get in?” she asked him.
“You gonna stand there looking like a scarecrow then?”
“You get’em canned peaches at the farmers market?” Charlie asked her.
“Yeah, I got them canned peaches.”
“Oh, maybe I’ll hitch a ride with ya afterall.”
“Well, get in then will ya. The milk is going bad in all this heat, been a long time since it rained last.
“Yep, real long time.”
Charlie sat down into the passenger’s seat and closed the car door before taking a close look at his wife who didn’t pay him any attention. Mary pulled back onto the driveway and headed toward the house.