Although disorientated from sleep, I imagined that I’d heard a shot, which emanated from somewhere outside. But I couldn’t be certain. The sound made me jump. I’d drifted off soon after.
Sleep hadn’t come until the early hours. Mulling over the evening’s events, calling Billy to take Lorrie into hospital to get her checked out. Though she’d insisted she was okay, just a little bruised.
There was no apology from Trenchard. Not that we expected one. He’d exited the house without another word soon after.
I was still awake when he returned. The walls are thin, and their room was adjacent to mine. I lay there, hands over my ears, in the foetus position. My heart was beating fast because I knew he was drunk from the way he shouted at her. I heard the sharply delivered slaps and Mama crying, begging him to stop. I knew I should have gone in, intervened. I wanted to. But every time any of us did, it would be Mama on the receiving end. If her and Pa had disciplined us properly when we were younger, we wouldn’t be the rebels we are now, he said. Though I guess you’d hardly call us rebels.
The early morning sunshine streamed in as I realised that I’d overslept and was late for work. Mama usually called us. Not today it seemed. In fact, the house was unnaturally quiet. Maybe Mama was sleeping in, and Johnny had gone to school.
The usual morning routine; Mama would be up fixing breakfast. Johnny would be tucking into his cereal. Hot coffee on the stove. He would have already gone to work. Trenchard never shared breakfast with us. I knew he preferred to eat in town.
When Mama failed to show, and I’d called into work to inform Joe I’d be late, I sought her out. At first she failed to answer. My heart plummeting with fear, I entertained the crazy notion that Mama and Johnny might be dead. The shot I’d heard. Or maybe he was dead. Well, I guess I could dream.
Mama turned when I spoke her name. Her face was a mass of bruises. Both eyes, encircled by purple, were already beginning to swell. I didn’t need to ask, But I did. She made an attempt to explain it was because she’d refused him. He was drunk and angry. Mama collapsed back onto the bed, while I promised to fetch Doc Graveley. Then, as if her strength was swiftly restored, she clutched my arm in earnest. “Please don’t do that, Luke. Bruises will heal. He… he’ll only find out.”
“I…I think you should leave him. We’ll find a place somewhere. Billy and Lorrie’s apartment ain’t much, but they’re happy.”
“Leave him? That’s not possible,” she said. Her voice was husky and she was barely able to speak with her swollen mouth. “He will only come after me. Besides, we have no money. You know that. Where would we go? is John up for school? I… I can’t face him like this. He might be almost sixteen, but he’s still a sensitive boy.”
“I haven’t seen him. I’d thought he’d already gone.” I promised to look for my brother, then take a ride into town to see Sheriff Anderson. This had to stop now before things became worse. I knew they would sooner or later.
I called the school just in case, only to be told that John Franklyn hadn’t put in an appearance. So where was he? I tried calling, but to no avail. My kid brother was nowhere to be found. Had Johnny had enough and decided to run away on his own? He probably wouldn’t have considered what he’d use for money.
Then I found him. Johnny was cuddled up to Blue in the barn, his arm wrapped about the dog. When I managed to prise my brother off him, I discovered that Blue was dead. Dried blood had seeped from one ear, and I knew he’d been shot in the head. The single shot I hadn’t imagined.
Johnny was inconsolable, and wanted to come into town with me, until I said Mama needed him now. I told him that I’d bury Blue when I returned.
With sinking heart I drove off in the old Buick, uncertain what I really intended to do. Killing Trenchard was uppermost of course. When Pa died, his effects were returned. Amongst them his Army issue Colt .45. There was even a couple of spare clips. The times I’d fantasised about going up against Trenchard and shooting him. Sure, that was okay in theory. But our circumstances would eventually lead his assassin to me. Where would Mama and Johnny be if I were jailed, or worse?
Luckily I managed to find Sheriff Anderson in his office. His deputy ushered me through and closed the door. Mort Anderson was well past middle age. He was grossly overweight, and stretched out his regulation shirt and pants to bursting. His balding scalp was lowered over some papers on his desk. He was swift to raise his head at my approach, and he motioned me into a seat.
I couldn’t fail to imagine the uneasy expression that flickered across his face when he saw me, as if he guessed why I was there. Sweat stains already permeated the underarms of his shirt, even at that time of the morning.
“So what can I do for you, young Luke?” He injected a friendliness into his voice, though it seemed to fall flat and meaningless.
It all came pouring out then. Everything that had happened to us, including Trenchard withholding money we knew he had for Mama’s cancer treatment. His striking my pregnant sister and finally about Mama’s injuries, and poor Blue left for dead in the barn.
“So what do you want me to do, Son?” His tone was so nonchalant, as if he hadn’t really been listening at all. My gaze lifted to the belt draped over the rack above his head, the gun butt within easy reach. The way I felt right now, so inflamed by anger, it would have been effortless on my part just to grab that pistol. But Mama’s bruised face and Johnny’s tear streaked one when he found Blue, rose to the fore and prevented me. Sure I had murder on my mind. But what else was there left?
“I want you to arrest Isaac Trenchard. He almost killed Mama and shot our dog. My sister could have lost her baby.”
“But your Mama ain’t dead is she? And your sister hasn’t lost her baby has she?”
“No,” I admitted grudgingly. “But next time he could kill someone. If he’s jailed, then we can prevent it.”
Anderson moved from behind his desk with all the speed of a tortoise. When he spoke again, he was as nonchalant as before. “Look you gotta know, Son, I don’t interfere in a domestic. You could try County. Maybe they’ll be more helpful. Johnson City or maybe Knoxville.”
But I was already at the door and conscious of his relieved expression. “I figured you were the local law around here. Guess County won’t be more helpful.”
“‘Fraid not, Son. Not in a Domestic,” he added, as if it were no longer his concern.