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Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
@MulcockPaul
10:12 AM 14th January 2022
fiction

Taken In For Questioning - An Avery Story

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Image by septfit
Image by septfit
Clark removed his filth-stained Stetson, running his left hand through the lank dampness of his greasy black hair, no more protected from the sun’s brutal attention than his leathery face, its dark skin like crude papier-mâché layered over once soft features. Sweat slowly trickled down his crinkled forehead, heading for the valleys and ravines etched into mottled flesh made hard over the course of dry, dusty, decades.

Deep crows’ feet momentarily arrested the flow before adding their salty silt to the load. He crowned himself once again, tipping the sun-soiled hat’s pale brim over his left eye…the only thing that was ever straight in Avery was the path to Hell.

Clark walked the thirty arid yards to his dust-caked truck, his boots crunching the grit beneath them, and lit a Marlborough. He drew the smoke into his lungs, coughed once and examined the Zippo. Its silver case dented by a ricocheting round last fall. That lighter had probably saved his life. He smiled at the irony. Crushing the butt into the dirt with his heel gave him some comfort. Sure, the damage had been done, but since when did his job go any differently.

He turned the ignition and steered the truck towards town. His passengers were mute, the old woman hunched up and sullen in the back, her husband up front with him staring blankly into oblivion. He did not expect to get much out of either of them, both likely to talk as much as the jagged rocks lining the rutted track back to Avery. Blood from a stone…

Clark’s mind crunched through the gears, selected a question and let the clutch up. “First off, why’d you let him do it ? You could a gone anytime. If you didn’t have the desire to save yourself, what stopped you from saving the kid from his fists ?”

The question hung in the air like a mouldy smell, swirling around the truck’s cabin before seeping into the filthy cloth of the Ford’s seats. He’d asked this type of question plenty of times in the past. In Avery, this line of enquiry was almost standard procedure for his boys, and Clark had voiced the same words for nearly as long as he’d been wearing the shield.

The old woman’s eyes met his in the rear-view mirror, holding his gaze defiantly before she lost her nerve and furtively looked away into the unforgiving impotence of the desert. He gave her time. He always gave them time. It cost nothing. It often resulted in nothing.

Missing with his first shot, he decided to work the old man. He’d be a harder nut to crack. Bulky even now at way past his prime, Clark felt intimidation stir in its lair and lazily stretch its malevolent limbs. He shut the feeling down before it leached away his will. He recalled what the old man had done and suppressed a shudder. The woman and the kid had both been victims of the type of savage rage that not only broke bones, but decimated hope. This perp used violence like other men use a bottle opener…a tool to get the lid off. He’d only stop when the bottle was empty and he was always thirsty.

“She’s half your fuckin’ size, defenceless. Those black eyes tell me you’re not much of a romantic, though you sure as hell seem to have loved pummelling her. She’s done, already dead and any spirit she ever had long gone.” Clark fumbled for the Zippo and lit another cigarette. He did not offer one to the old man, who trained his gaze dead ahead.

“So you piece of shit, I know you’re guilty. You wear that guilt like a bullet casing. I don’t give a rat’s ass about you, but I do wanna know why you did it. Wanna know why you used that kid and his mom like punch bags until he put you on your ass. She ain’t gunna be spilling any beans now she’s done spitting out teeth. But that kid, he deserves some fuckin’ answers. You tell me now old timer ‘coz my anger’s rising”.

Clark stopped the truck abruptly, skidding the Ford’s tyres across the grit. He glared into the perp’s defiant eyes, the snakes in his belly writhing, squirming their way into his pain-addled psyche. The hissing grew louder, forcing him to breathe slowly and resist their seductive chorus.

Once a well has been poisoned it killed anything its waters were intended to save from Avery’s purgatorial heat. Clark’s ladle had dipped into a well so rancid, so stagnant that his own blood had become befouled by toxic sediments slowly rotting his sanity like a corpse’s wet flesh putrefying in the sun. In Avery, every well was poisoned, Clark’s just happened to come with a gun and a badge.

The old man shifted his hefty frame, and turned venomously to face Clark. No need for the Colt this time, so Clark swallowed his barely repressed fear and waited for the words he did not expect to hear. They did not come. Truth had a habit of scuttling under the rocks in Avery, preferring shadows to light. Clark pressed again, the serpents wanted vengeance and he’d never learnt how to deny them a sacrifice. “You got nothing to lose. She’s done talking. You’ve let your fists say plenty, now I want your tongue to join the party”.

Silence save for the hissing. Detection work in Avery seldom resulted in anything more than establishing who was the murderer, and who was the victim. Clark let his eyes burn into those of the old man, hoping to sear his soul with righteous indignation. Like goodwill and kindness, righteousness was in short supply in Avery and Clark’s eyes had no effect. He turned the ignition and gave up on his search for answers. The old man and his wife went back to looking into the distance, the only place they’d find escape.

Clark’s mother had died fifteen years ago, her accumulated injuries calling time on the bout. His pops met a hail of bullets from Clark’s Colt a year later, dying after the first round, but pumped full of lead because the trigger needed squeezing until the gun was empty. They’d found themselves reluctant passengers in the Sherriff’s truck most days. Clark would keep bringing them in for questioning, but knew they’d never talk.

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