Joe set his pistol on the counter and poured a cup of coffee from the machine. He took a sip, then slid the magazine out of the 9mm. The mag held 17. He reloaded the gun and stuck it in the back of his jeans and took a sip.
He was a rat, he knew. And he knew that the guy he ratted on, Glenn, had a rep as a brutal fucker, and he killed Bix. Not over a drug deal but because his wife told him that Bix was trying to fuck her. Which wasn’t true. Peg said that to throw Glenn off the trail. Joe was fucking her.
Joe didn’t really think Glenn would kill Bix because he was part of the operation. Bix kept half of Clay County under control and supplied with Glenn’s pills. But Glenn did kill Bix. Shot him in the back of the head with a .22 auto, then hit him in the head with a shovel for good measure. Did it on Joe’s property. Lured Bix out there with some bullshit line about buying some of Joe’s land, planning to build a house there. Then he shot him. While Joe watched. Made Joe dig the hole. That shit shook him up.
Then that fucker Jack Cable showed up. Wiseass private eye prick from town. He knew all about Bix being killed and was talking about going to the cops and taking the $10,000 reward. That freaked him out. Cable then agreed to split the reward with him if he could produce Bix’s body. And rat Glenn out. Cable would deal with the cops to get Joe immunity and half the money. That sounded good. Maybe that would stop those dreams of shovels and blood and holes in the ground. And let him stop looking over his shoulder, thinking Glenn was going to find out about him and Peg and come kill him.
Joe had just sat at the Formica kitchen table with his coffee when somebody banged on the front door. He jumped in his chair, sloshing half his coffee across the table. He sighed.
“Fucking Cable,” he said to the kitchen. Even though he knew Cable would be there at 7:30 — and it was 7:30, according to the digital clock on the coffee machine — he was still spooked. He stood, grabbed a towel from the counter by the sink, threw it over the brown puddle on the table.
He walked through the small, dark living room toward the door.
“Hey, man, you don’t have to knock the fucking door in,” he said as he snatched the door open.
He stared at Glenn’s unsmiling face. He hoped his own didn’t show his shock.
“Hey, Glenn,” he said, trying to keep his voice — and his body — level. “What’s up this early?”
Glenn just stared at him. He wasn’t a big man, not even as tall as Joe. Maybe five and a half feet tall. Long, stringy dirty-blonde hair, long biker-style goatee and the rest of his face unshaven a couple of days. A little on the scrawny side, pale and always wearing clothes that looked a size too big. Even so, he scared the shit out of Joe. Glenn could hurt you, with a tire iron or a pair of vise grips or whatever he could find near at hand.
“Well, shit, man,” Joe said, stepping back into the dim living room. “Come on in.”
Glenn nodded and, without a word, strode into the house. Joe caught up to him and headed to the kitchen. “I was just set down for some coffee. Want some?”
Glenn entered the kitchen and squinted. The overhead lights glared like the sun compared to the living room. “No, he said. I didn’t come here for fucking coffee.”
Joe ducked around him, avoiding his eyes. “Ok, then, I’ll pour me another.” He went to the machine, his back to Glenn.
“Joe, cut the bullshit. And turn around.”
Joe turned and faced Glenn, who held a pistol on him. Auto.
Nice gun, he thought, immediately before thinking, I am fucked.
“Got dam, Glenn, what the hell is this?” he hoped his faux surprise wasn’t all that faux.
“Oh, you can save all that acting bullshit,” Glenn said. “I had a real interesting talk last night with a friend of yours. Jack Cable?”
Joe tightened his jaw. “Yeah, I know Jack. Private eye type in town.”
Glenn nodded, still no smile. “He told me all about the deal you and him had to rat me out to the cops and split the reward. So don’t even waste my time. Just pull that nine-mil out the back of your pants real slow and lay it on the counter.”
Joe did as he was told. The pistol clonked onto the counter and sounded, to Joe, like a death knell.
“You’re a real dumbass, Joe,” Glenn said over his pistol. “I figured you’d do something like this a long time ago, when I saw you pussy out when I killed Bix. It was only a matter of time. So I made a little deal of my own with that dirtbag Cable. And you’re going down for killing Bix.”
Joe tried to think. This was not going the way he and Cable had planned. “Wait a minute,” he said. “If Cable ratted me out to you, what makes you think he won’t double-cross you, too?”
He felt pretty good about that one. Made sense and it might buy him some time.
Glenn smiled for the first time. “The only thing Cable cares about is money,” he said. “He don’t give a shit about who goes to jail. I made sure of that by doubling his money — after I turn your sorry ass over to him.”
Joe knew he was fucked. “Double? You’re going to pay that scumbag ten grand?”
“Never said I was going to pay him. I just said I would.” Glenn shifted his weight, tossed his head over his shoulder.
“Go,” he said. “Out back. We’re going for a little walk.”
Joe again obeyed, walking slowly out the front door and around the house in the dull orange morning light, barefooted through the dewy crabgrass. The house sat in the center of twenty acres of a former cotton field, small, squat and isolated. The back yard opened into a wide, flat field that ended fifty yards distant at a line of two-story pines. Even in the cool spring air, Joe soaked his T-shirt through, hyperventilating, his mind careening from one demented escape plan to another. The whole time, he felt Glenn aiming that gun on him, a sensation that felt like he was being pushed with a red-hot piece of rebar.
Twenty yards short of the tree line, Joe spied a fresh mound of turned earth, and in ten more yards saw the hole.
“Stop,” Glenn said. “Turn around.”
Joe moved as if he was neck deep in molasses. Finally, he faced Glenn. His lips twitched, and his eyes rolled to the lightening sky. “Glenn, please man.”
Glenn shot him in the head, a double-tap to the forehead, then put one through his chest. Joe fell, dead, straight back, his head a foot shy of the grave.
Glenn lowered the gun and stared. “Please, my ass. Fucking rat.” He put the pistol in the back of his jeans and took a step toward the corpse.
He didn’t see Jack Cable until the latter had stepped clear of the treeline. Cable had a pistol leveled at him and a smug smile across a flat, bland face. The eyes, though, were as focused as a sniper’s. Cable took two more steps toward him, then stopped. Never took his eyes off Glenn, not even to look at Joe’s dead corpse stretched on the dewy earth, a crimson halo growing around Joe’s dead head.
Glenn opted to stand very still. “Well, got dam, Jack, you’re one of them quiet types. I guess you’re wondering about your money.”
Cable didn’t even blink. The only part of his body that moved were his lips. “Only thing I’m wondering is how long it’s going to take for you to put that piece on the ground. I know better than to trust a scumbag like you.”
“Come on, Jack, is that any way to treat a business partner?” Glenn saw movement over Cable’s shoulders. Two uniformed deputy sheriffs emerged from the treeline, also with weapons drawn. He shot a glance at Cable. Sighed. Put up his hands.
“Remove your weapon and place it on the ground,” yelled one of the deputies, a hard-looking, forty-something man with the demeanor of a drill sergeant. Glenn complied and was already kneeling down when the deputy yelled again for him to get on his knees.
The other deputy, a tall skinny kid with eyelids that reminded Cable of a lizard, covered his partner and talked out the side of his mouth. “I thought he was going to hand Joe over to you, not shoot him.”
Cable tucked his pistol into the shoulder holster under his windbreaker. “So did I. But this way makes your job a lot easier now, right?”
The skinny deputy shrugged. “Yeah, in the long run, I guess so. Hey, where you going?”
Cable stopped at the treeline and looked back over his shoulder. “It’s a cash-on-delivery job. I delivered. I’m going to get my cash.”