The bitter harbingers of death had fallen in the rain of gunfire. Blood Land.

More chapters from Blood Land

A VG Serial: Blood Land

Chapter 16 – 7

Cort and Honey climbed out of the vehicle of their own accord, son helping arthritic mother. It was always worse for her until she got moving. Ty was carried out by Carrot-top, manacled.

“So this is the plan,” Pruett said. “Murder and robbing the good people of this state of their money. You make me sick. I was glad to stop your kind in ‘Nam.”

My kind, was embattled, sir. We were killing the enemy.”

“You were murdering then just as you’re murdering now. Women. Children.”

“Once a mind chooses to believe in the cause, age and gender are merely designations.”

“I’m proud of my country,” Pruett said. “Things like the Geneva Convention and rules of engagement. War tribunals. THAT is how we sort out the confusion. Is some eighteen-year-old German boy any more like Hitler than you or I or is he simply following orders? The jury and executioners are not humping gear out the jungle. We take prisoners. There are procedures.”

“Perhaps we really are two different kinds of men,” said Warren.

“I’m nothing like you,” Pruett spat.

“You see women and children as something weaker, less capable of atrocity. I once witnessed a mother and daughter shred a Marine with a shoeshine box so horrifically there was nothing left with which his family could recognize him.” He gestured to Honey as she stepped around the front of the SUV.

“War is Hell,” said Pruett. “Ain’t never been happy with it, not on either side.”

“Your losses in this war are heavy.”

“What?” Pruett said, his eyes narrowed and steady.

“In the way you lost your wife. I would think defending the woman who planned the whole ordeal would be impossible even for a man such as you.”

Pruett looked over at Honey McIntyre, who was still too far away to hear the low voice of Warren.

“Shouldn’t have happened,” Pruett said. “Wrong place, bad timing.”

“Say I could prove to you otherwise?”

“What do you mean?”

“Agent Higgins, give me the sheriff’s revolver,” Warren said to his man.

Higgins wiped the gun clean and handed it to his superior.

“The whole plan—everything—was coming together perfectly,” Warren said. “But some people can’t stop. True evil is like skin—it is the largest organ in the human body and eventually it controls everything, right down to the smallest of actions.”

Special Agent Warren stepped up behind Honey McIntyre, who was looking at the trees, put the muzzle of Sheriff Pruett’s revolver against the back of her skull, and pulled the trigger without a moment’s hesitation.

“MOMMA,” Ty cried out as Carrot-top attempted to subdue him, using the side of the vehicle, but had to call out for his partner and the both of them wrestled Ty all the way to the ground before the shackled man was in their control once again.

The rest of the participants stood still, like a diorama of a scene that had either just finished or was just beginning to play out. Cort McIntyre’s eyes remained dreary and fixed on his boot tops the entire time.

Pruett kneeled, only because instinct and training told him he should. He stared at the fallen body of his mother-in-law, his face expressionless. So much had happened; the world for him was a place he no longer recognized as his own, nor even the same place he’d woken up in the day before.

When Honey went down it was more like she lilted; like a marionette when the strings that give it life are lowered and the play has ended. As she lay there, her tiny, arthritic hands and her other appendages half-pulled toward her in an awkward fetal position, Pruett was made to think of baby birds he’d seen as a child, the creatures having fallen from their nest, no doubt completely confused until the moment they hit the earth and died. Only Honey was dead before the echo of gunfire faded in the treed canyon beyond.

Pruett’s eyes narrowed again and his facial muscles tightened in abhorrence. It mattered little now who stood for bad and who stood for good. The lines had become muddied and crisscrossed. They were—in one way or another—mostly murderers there.

The sheriff continued to stare at Honey for a moment longer, crumpled on the cold, hard earth. She no longer resembled an innocent bird to him but rather a decrepit carrion whose only purpose was to embrace death and sluice all the life it could from the living; eating and eating at the innocent until nothing remained but bone.

“The plan had always been to take out Rory,” Warren said lowly and without so much as a tremor of remorse. “Only Honey and I knew the when and the where. We made sure Ty thought his old man tried to kill him, knew he’d come to the ranch to have it out.”

“What in the hell happened?” Pruett hissed.

“I learned later, from Rance, that Honey sent her husband to the back of the house when she first heard the distant roar of her son’s truck. She offered Bethy Rory’s coat and hat and when Ty started yelling outside, she asked her daughter to please see if she could get her brother to calm down and come inside. Said to Bethy she’d have done it herself but that she had to check the boiling coffee.”

“Why?” said Pruett, tears belying the iniquitous intent behind his stony eyes.

“I asked her,” Warren said, pulling the sheriff to his feet. “Why the woman? She had no share of the parcels. She was an innocent in the proceedings. She said that was why. Innocence was the one thing she’d never been able to tolerate.”

 

Chapters of the serial are published Monday through Saturday.

You can learn more about R. S. Guthrie’s novels on his Amazon Author’s Page.

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