Silas watched the lone doctor apply a dab of methylated liquid across the surface area of the gunshot wound. The form lay limp on a mat, arms spread – one facing west and the other east.
Silas had once read that a journey northward might lead southward, but a journey eastward would never arrive in the west. What, if any, did that say about the man?
The doctor, Matthew, who also doubled as a nurse and a medical examiner cut a wad of cotton and wore it round the wound, turning the body gingerly as if a greater exertion would cause the dead to rise.
But then, the man wasn’t even dead.
The sound of a vehicle speeding along the dusty highway carried to him. The roof above him creaked as it expanded in the heat of the day. By Silas’s calculation, it’d been two and a half hours since he fled the grassland, then returned for a look, fled, returned, then succumbed to his soft spot and slung the body over his shoulder like a hunted deer to his home. He’d arranged the body in his shed before sending for the doctor.
An hour and a half since Mary stormed out with a final word that she’d not return until the body was removed from her house. She would visit the lone school, cool off till it came time to close, then retrieve the kids. Where next, she didn’t say.
Forty-five minutes since Matthew arrived. He’d been caught up with a delivery (he functioned as a midwife) of Jonas Stone, the first child of the Stones, a promising couple who took their parents opposition to their wedding as permission to escape the hullabaloos of the city.
Matthew, always the professional, ensured a first-aid treatment of the gunshot wound before venturing into the interrogation.
Twelve minutes since Silas stepped back as Matt did his final work on the form. There was a slight pulse now, an update that lit the corners of Silas’s heart.
“That should be all,” Matthew said, standing. “For now.”
“Is he going to live?”
The doc smiled. “He has survived three hours estimate without treatment. My guess is yes.”
“Is he likely to wake anytime?”
Matthew reached for his briefcase – or his mobile workstation. “No. Give him at least a day.” He handed over a thick wad of white. “Change the bandage every six hours. His body might suddenly develop heat.”
Matthew sidestepped and headed out, stopping at the wide entrance of the small shed.
“I assume you’re keeping this from the sheriff.”
“What do you think, Matthew? To be honest, I’m not certain I should have taken the body.”
“It’s good you did. The man is a fighter. Two bullet wounds healing. Multiple knife scars across his back. A tattoo of a pistol.”
Matthew walked back inside.
“See,” Matthew said, stooping. He lifted a finger. “This pinkie has been broken twice and has healed on both accounts.” He touched the man’s nose. “The cartilage here was stretched beyond limits. Healed.”
“I assume it’s been over two years.”
“I might not be a veteran, but I have tidbits of knowledge about this things. Whoever shot him did not intend his death. The bullet wedged into two ribs and exited through his backside. Close shot, so it was no miss.”
“I have a feeling this man is involved in something messy.”
“Trust that feeling,” Matthew said, “and don’t let Vic know about this.”
“And if I already do?”
The sheriff’s voice cut in into Silas’s meditation. Matthew transformed into a statue. For a moment, silence reigned.
“Hello sheriff,” Silas said, feigning normalcy.
“Hello yourself.” The sheriff, Vic Hompton, invited himself in. “I see we’ve got some situation here.”
He dragged situation like it was a mid-grade terrorist attack and a governor was hostage.
“Depends,” Silas responded.
Vic chuckled. His chest was pushed out as usual. He wore a gray linen pant and a fading white top. Enough stubble to last a year. His eyes were sunken and heavy and bounced around the walls of the shed, searching for a hidden accomplice to Silas’s crime.
“So, what’s his name?” Vic asked.
“What does he do?”
“Who are his parents?”
“Look, Vic. Get to it. Your work is to investigate, not trade irrelevant questions.”
Tick. Creak. Tick.
“See, you have it all wrong.” Vic strutted. “This, my friend, is investigation. Having a wanted man in your custody. That’s enough base for me to order you outta the city.”
“I should leave,” Matthew said and covered the distance to the door in four strides.
“Hm. The wicked flees when no man pursues.” Chuckle. “So, let’s talk. Word has it you found the man just after Mahmud’s.”
“You brought him home, called the doc, had him treated, and didn’t think to inform the sheriff.”
Silas knew not to lie.
“Let’s say I was afraid.”
“Ball point,” Vic said, face twisted in a displeasing grin. “Do you mind sharing with the house why you were afraid?”
Silas’s tongue could not move.
“No? I bet you wondered if this man –” Vic had a finger at the form on the mat “– was in any way related to the copter hovering over the town this morning. I bet you wondered if he was a wanted man. I bet you wondered if you were being logical…”
What else did you bet?
“I don’t have much time,” Vic said, as if he was alerted of a recent update. “I want to know when this man wakes. I want an update of his response to treatment, his feeding, everything. You know how to find me.”
“Do I report the cc of air he breathes?”
“You can. If you wish. This man is dangerous, Silas. He’s not your typical lost soul that you can convert. Bringing him home meant inviting trouble. You do not want to keep trouble too long.” Vic stopped and looked outside. “I bet Mary would agree.”
The sheriff kicked the wooden gate with his feet and marked his exit with stomps. He did not look at Mary when she greeted him. He managed a sneer for the kids.
Silas turned and looked at the body for the tenth time in an hour, stilled his senses to register Mary’s mumbles, and knew Vic was right.
This man, whoever he was, was trouble.
And Silas felt oddly interested to know him.
$ $ $ $ $ $ $
Kim. Kim Burton.
The name came to him as clear as spring water. Kim. The hours passed for him in a routine of waking in the fog, slipping into a cauldron of steam, fly into the mass of fog, until finally, he could no longer fight.
One name filled his lips still.
Afterword: This post should have come yesterday, but… It’s here all the same. I decided to use a picture of Colt. It’s been a while. Thank you very much for reading.
Self-editing work is ongoing on my novel. Would be sure to carry everyone along when it’s done. Kindly share this stories with others. It’s always a welcome move.