Where to go? Here or the Orphan’s Home? Borrowed to the Bone. Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Twelve-year-old Ben Tom Lawless tossed and turned for two hours before sensing that someone was in the room with him and his two brothers. When a shoe scuffed on one of the few remaining remnants of cheap linoleum on the pine floor he slept on, he was sure. His brothers, Willy, ten, and Trez, eight, asleep on matching army cots on both sides of Ben Tom, did not stir. Their breathing remained rhythmic, safe in the knowledge that their older brother was a very light sleeper. And they knew he was armed.

Ben Tom had been more or less trapped all night between two quilts that smelled of mildew and the sweat of working men who seldom bathed before bedtime. Splinters grabbed the threadbare quilts each time he had moved during the night.

Careful to keep his head still, he opened one eye and tried to locate the small billy club he had laid beside his pallet. But the club had rolled out of reach on the unlevel floor. He pulled his switchblade from the back pocket of his Levi’s and used the quilt to muffle the sound as he flicked it open.

Ben Tom heard the bedroom window open, the click of another switchblade, and the sound of the window screen being ripped. A strip of moonlight across the cobwebs and dust bunnies on the floor revealed a pair of black Converse basketball shoes that looked familiar.

When he heard the clank of metal in the corner where he had left his most prized possession, the gun his father had bought him, he risked a move of his head just enough to see the dark figure pick up his new .410 shotgun, Willy’s .22 bolt action, and Trez’s pellet gun—all gifts from their father when he went away.

He closed the blade on the switchblade and returned it to his pocket. He lay back and tried to figure what had just happened. He removed the wooden cross he kept in his other front pocket. He had made the cross from a piece of scrap soft pine and rubbed it smooth with Tung oil. He didn’t have the words to talk to God, so rubbing the cross was his way of praying, and Ben Tom felt compelled to pray a lot.

Rubbing the cross usually put him to sleep, but not this night. He wondered why Uncle Clark had slit the screen in his own window and why he had taken their guns.

Over a breakfast of yesterday’s sausage and cold biscuits, Ben Tom asked his uncle where their new guns were.

Clark’s eyes widened as he went into the bedroom where the boys had slept. The brothers looked at each other over cups filled with black coffee, the only thing hot about the meal. They heard their uncle’s curses from the bedroom.

Eyes cold, Clark returned to the table. “You boys leave that window open last night?”

They shook their heads.

“It’s open now. Screen’s been cut, too. Damn thief got off with your guns. You boys ought to know better than to leave a window open in this neighborhood. ”

Ben Tom stared at his uncle, disbelief clear in his eyes. Clark Mallory had been his hero. Next to his father, the man he looked up to most. Clark was athletic, tall and handsome with dark, thick hair. He had always seemed kind and generous. The man in their room last night could not have been Uncle Clark. He was just pulling a prank of some kind.

But Clark erased all doubt as he returned Ben Tom’s stare with a warning look like nothing Ben Tom had ever witnessed from his uncle. “You boys leaving that window unlocked . . . your own damn fault you lost your guns. Clean up them dishes before you go to school.”

Ben Tom took a deep breath. He wanted that gun more than anything he had ever owned before. It was his only valuable possession. He stood and pushed back his chair as his uncle started to leave. “Why’d you cut your own screen?”

Clark paused at the kitchen door. He waved a hand dismissively toward the three boys as if erasing them. “You boys see this roof over your head; that grub on the table?”

Willy, realizing for the first time that his uncle had taken their guns, swelled with anger. His face warmed and contorted. Small for his age, he had been angry most of his life. He could not wait to get big enough to fight back. He imagined sticking the fork he held in his hand into his uncle’s eye. Trez just stared at the floor.

Clark saw the anger and returned to the table. “Didn’t your mama or daddy ever tell you what I do for a living?”

Willy waited for Ben Tom to answer. When he didn’t, he pointed his fork at Clark. “They said you was a damn thief, but they didn’t tell us you was sorry enough to steal from your own family.”

Clark chuckled. “Hell, boy, about half the orders I get for merchandise comes from my own family. I been known to steal from one relative to sell to the other. I had an order for them guns and I filled it. Simple as that. Man came by to get ‘em last night and put a hundred dollar bill in my hand.”

Ben Tom struggled to keep his voice from breaking. “I’d have given you a hundred.”

Clark scooted his chair back. “Now where in hell you gonna get a hundred? You ain’t got ten cents in your pocket and never have had.”

“I’d have found a way. Anything to keep our guns.”

Billy Jack pointed the fork at Clark’s eye. “Daddy’s gonna kill you when he gets back. Hope he does.”

“Your daddy knows what I do for a living. I filled plenty of orders for him, too. I ain’t got no other skill, but I’m damn good at finding things people want and need.”

He walked back to the door and turned again. “You boys need to get your heads screwed on right. Your daddy and mama split up, married other people. My sister, your mama, married a sorry bastard makes me look like a Sunday School teacher. You want to go live with him? He’ll beat hell out of you every morning when he gets up and every night before he goes to bed. Just for the hell of it. He gets off on doing shit like that and she damn well knows it.”

Trez ducked his head and started to sniffle.

“Well, boys. What’s it gonna be. Here or the orphan’s home?”

Chapters of the serial are published on Friday.

You can learn more about Borrowed to the Bone and other titles by Jim H. Ainsworth on his Amazon Author Page.

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