straight down the line

John Braddock: What’s in Your Bag?

When he new for sure they had it in for him, he packed up the essentials in his duffel and took the  path through the woods to Milly’s parents’ house, where he’d told her to stay ’til the trouble was over. As he left the sun was setting on a grey November day, and he heard shots echoing faintly through the bare trees. Some hunter out late, or maybe teaching his kid to shoot.  He was thinking with regret how it seemed the trouble was bigger than he’d thought, and it wouldn’t be over ’til they both got gone. He was working on an apology, and it was gonna have to be one hell of an apology. His efforts to clean up the county had pissed off some dangerous people, and now they had to pick up and scram ’til the trouble blowed over. He knew Milly would hate to leave her parents, but she’d understand about it being the best way to keep them safe. He and Milly would be fine as long as they were together. Heck, maybe they’d travel out west, see some redwoods. It could be like the honeymoon they never had!  But when he got there, instead of Milly’s bright smiling eyes, he found himself looking down into the cold eyes of her mother, lying dead on the floor. She’d been shot right where she stood when she answered a knock at the door, surely expecting him. Margaret still had her friendly smile frozen in place, but her eyes showed a hint of panic, the last thing she felt before Freddy and his city boys snuffed her. He could see her father lying farther in, strangely on his face. He must have been heading for the gun cabinet to the right when a shot to the temple turned him all the way around. John froze for a minute, taking it all in. He was too late, and Milly was nowhere to be seen. That’s when he heard another shot echo through the trees, this one from the direction of their house where he’d just been. He grabbed her pa’s rifle out of the cabinet and ran back down the trail, faster than he’d ever run before. But again he got there too late. It was already dark and he watched from the car as Freddy and his boys threw four now-empty gas cans through the front windows, laughing, and Freddy tossed a match. His house was soon ablaze and Milly, his precious little dove, was lying still on the front porch, her pale dress bunched around her waist, flames licking her hair. Watching from the darkness of the treeline, a dark, heavy grief brought him to his knees, and he felt his hard crack, and sink beneath wave after wave of pain and emptiness. And in its place bloomed a cold rage. Still in his knees, John raised the rifle and took careful aim. Two shots, in quick succession. The first took out Freddy’s right knee, the second caught one of his boys right between the eyes. Then he ducked behind a tree as the rest of them fired blindly into the darkness. After a minute they paused, unsure if they’d hit him. He fell on his stomach and shot another man right in the chest. That left three more men, and John was out of bullets. But they didn’t know that, and realizing their vulnerable position, one of them motioned to the other two and they dashed for the cars and roared on out of there, eager to leave this hick county behind. After they were gone, Johns rose and stalked over to Freddy where he was still writhing on the ground. When he looked up and saw him looming, Freddy reached for his gun where it lay on the ground, but John’s boot came down heavy on his hand before it could get there.

He slowly picked it up while Freddy said “You better get out of here, John, ‘fore m’boys git back and fuck you up.” It was an empty threat and they both knew it.

“Oh I don’t think they’ll be coming back here tonight,” said John evenly, “and I’ll be gone before the morning.” There was something cold and sharp in his voice that didn’t bode too well for Freddy.

“But there’s a lot of time between then and now, and you’re going to spend all night apologizing for what you done.”

“Fuck you!” Freddy spat back, face twisted in fear and spite.

But he did apologize, over and over, and beg, and plead, and cry too. And scream. There was a lot of screaming that night. Freddy apologized long after his teeth were shattered and his legs were cracked and his fingers were all bent out of shape. He moaned when John took his nose, and he yowled with each severed ear. He begged for mercy again and again, but John never said a word more. John’s grim face, tears streaming, but featured set like stone, was the last thing Freddy’s eyes ever saw before he lost those too. When the sky began to lighten, John went over to the smouldering remains of his life, took the still faintly glowing iron cross pendant from off Milly’s blackened neck and walked back through the woods in a daze. As the cross burnt into his palm, he focused on the pain, the only thing that felt real in the cold dawn light. Only when he got to Milly’s parents’ house did he come back to the real world. He bandaged his hand, grabbed his bag, her parents’ savings, and the keys to their car and head out to the highway.

In his bag, John Braddock has:

  • 6 changes of clothes
  • a flask
  • a handle of Wild Turkey 101
  • a hunting knife
  • a whittling knife
  • a large toolbag
  • $8,000 cash, rolled up in an old cookie tin
  • one blackened iron cross pendant on a broken, twisted, silver chain

Leave a Comment