Chapter 1 – Red tailed Hawks, and Red Rocks.
So there I was enjoying a beautiful Kentucky afternoon while renewing the widow Abner’s brownie wards when some damned fool in a city truck (and if you don’t know what a city truck is its one them fool jacked up trucks with a nice shiny paint job, too much chrome, and no gun rack in the back window) comes barreling down the road too damn fast, skidding out on the turn, crushing the woven beech wood, Hawthorne and silver bell knotwork I had been preparing to bury at the northeast corner of the widow’s property, scattering my candles hither and yon and damn near running me over in the process.
As I was deciding whether or not to throw a couple low grade curses his way and trying to decide which one to use (I was leaning toward making the dumb bastard a magnet for lice, only temporarily of course) I was interrupted in my cogitating by Deputy Dalton’s 97 ford bronco screaming down the same damn road. At least Jed knew how to drive on dirt and managed to stay on the road, and Sheriff Garrett who was riding shotgun did have the good manners to throw me an apologetic wave as I got yet another cloud of dust and gravel square in the face, but to say my day had ceased to be pleasant was an understatement.
Well there I was cursing under my breath about idiot city boys who come up into the mountains with bad intentions and the idiot cops what chase them when I got a twinge in my right earlobe that told me something bad was about to happen. AS if my day wasn’t bad enough now there was gonna be violence. Exasperated I looked up into the clear blue Kentucky sky to see if I might have an ally up there when I spotted Hank circling on the thermals looking for a meal. Hank’s a crotchety old red tail but he and I had history so I sent my sight up into the sky and made contact.
“Need Ride, Help” Hawks aint much for long winded conversations. Fancy-pants eloquence tends to piss them off.
“Rabbit?” See what I mean, no hemming and hawing, no unnecessary jawing, just straight to haggling.
“Mouse?” You gotta be tough with red-tails, you get a rep as a pushover and next thing you know they’ll be asking for a whole damn sheep, though what in the hell a red-tail would do with a sheep I have yet to figure out.
“Squirrel. No Squirrel, no Ride”
“Squirrel” I agreed and spit on the ground to seal the deal. Old hank came plummeting down in a predatory dive centered on my head, and if you aint ever had 2 and a half pounds of raptor homing in on your kisser you got no damn idea just how intimidating it can be. But I held my ground and looked him square in the eye and just before I got a face full of talons he flared out his wings and dropped to the ground on the other side of the gob of spit just as light as a butterfly landing on a rose. I sat down and focused my eyes on his, there was the familiar feeling of being on a merry go round moving way too fast and next thing I know I’m looking out of Hanks eyes as he flaps those big old wings and lifts of like the avian death machine he is.
I’ll tell you, if you’ve never seen through a Hawk’s eyes then you got no damned clue just how piss poor human sight is. Hell I was judged 20/20 back when I fought in the great war and my eyes hadn’t gotten any worse by the time I served in WW2, but Hank made me fell like I’d spent my life half blind in one eye with an eye patch over the other. He could see the ticks on a dog ass three miles away. Well he could have if he had had any interest in ticks, or dog’s asses.
As we circled up into the sky I pointed out the candy apple red truck that has just then taken yet another turn too fast, resulting in said truck being quickly and forcibly stopped by a red oak that was even older than I was. As I watched in horror through Hank’s superior avian vision I saw some damned fool dressed in too tight jeans, too shiny boots, and the reddest shirt I have ever seen in my life come out of the car with the biggest damn handgun It had ever been my misfortune to lay eyes upon.
“Is that damned fool trying to fire a deagle one handed?” I thought to myself?
Hank, being as privy to my thoughts as I was to his eye sight began to to look around in rage, utterly offended by the idea that an eagle might be trying to horn in on his territory.
“Not eagle, deagle” I replied with a mental image of the ridiculous gun.
“Noise hand. Pah”I shit you not, he actually thought “Pah” I believe Hank may have spent more time around me than is healthy for any bird.
By this point the deputy’s bronco was skidding to a stop in front of the garish truck, but unfortunately for old Jed the cloud of dust and gravel he created in doing so obscured his view of the crazy fool with the oversize gun, and now I knew why I’d had my premonition. I could tell by the way Deputy Dalton and Sheriff Garrett were getting out of the car that they assumed the city feller was hurt and only I knew better. Damn it, this was gonna end up costing me a rabbit after all.
“Hank, Bad man. Bad noise hand. Hank hunt”
“Rabbit?” I hate it when I’m right sometimes.
Once we were agreed things happened pretty fast, Hank streaked down like a bullet, flaring his wings and extending his talons just as the crazy bastard with the idiot gun raised his hand to fire, only instead of the big bang he had been expected he heard himself scream as the pain of his wrist and forearm being shredded hit. For one crazy second he looked into Hanks eyes and I could see the madness within his. Hank and I both shuddered at that because there wasn’t nothing natural about that particular kind of crazy, and it had more than a touch of damnation to it.
Well old hank flapped his wings and got out of there likety-split, but by that time Deputy Dalton had seen the gun on the ground and the hawk flying away and while he looked confused as hell he’d been trained well. He had the city boy on his stomach in the dirt and his arms cuffed behind him before he asked any questions. The last thing I saw before Hank turned back to where I left my body was Sheriff Garrett tipping his hat to Hank and I while shushing the deputy. Les always had been a well mannered boy
As hank winged his way back to my body I looked down to see the widow Abner standing over my still form, pointing her finger at me and apparently doing some shouting. I had a feeling I’d have a sore noggin If I didn’t get down there quick like so I sent Hank a mental image of a rabbit on my porch at sundown, and he seemed just fine with that. Gathering up my sight I focused on the back of my own head (Looks like its about time to get back to the barber shop) and sent my self back to my own mortal clay.
Have I ever told you I hate being right so damned often. Well I do. No sooner am I back behind my own eyes when a gnarled old piece of ash thwacks me right on top of my skull. At the same time the not so dulcet tones of a eighty eighty year old woman in full schreechifying mode comes barreling into my eyes and I am confronted by the not so comforting sight of Widow Abner’s wrinkled digits pointed right between my eyes. From the ache in my crown she must have been talking for a good couple minutes and had decided to punctuate every sentence with a thump on the top of my pointy little head. Now like any self respecting man I don’t leave the house without a hat on but that old piece of cloth and felt didn’t offer much in the way of protection, even when it hadn’t already been abused by an old woman with more sand than sense. I still wasn’t quite up to actually deciphering what in the hell she was going on about but I saw her jab her finger at me and threw my hand up just in time to catch her walking stick in my right hand, and while it stung my palm something fierce may hands are well calloused, my scalp not so much.
“Now Damnit Lizzie, how many times have I told you that the kind of crap that was cute when you were a chubby legged toddler aint so cute when in your eighties and more gnarled that that old hunk of wood you call a cane?”
“Well he finally deigns to speak with me, lawd a mercy, aint I just so blessed. And here I thought the layabout I’d hired, and already fed lunch to I might add, was just taking advantage of my good and naive nature by taking a nap when he was supposed to be working!”
“Lizzie you know damn well I wasn’t sleeping, you’ve seen me hitch rides since you were knee high to a grasshopper”
“Well I didn’t hire you to go out hitchin now did I. No sir I did not, I hired you to make sure them damn milk stealing Irish monsters wouldn’t be curdling my cows cream so I did”
“For one thing, I was helping out Sheriff Garrett, for another I’m nearly done, and for a third if you don’t put that damn rod down I’m gonna put you over my knee and spank you worse than I did when I caught you trying to trying to steal a cheese wheel from the Buckner farm.” I punctuated that last statement with my hardest stare, the one that had convinced many a young man in the Somme that leaving the trench was far less scary than staying in it when I’d given an order to move. And the crazy old bat just laughed at me.
“I’m so sorry Unca Zeke, pwease don’t spank me, I’ll be a good girl” Now if you aint had an eighty eight year old woman try and hit you with the puppy dog eyes let me tell you, its a damned disturbing sight.
“Lizzie that shit stopped working on me when you was four, and you aint nearly so cute now as you were then” And Ill be damned if the old biddy didn’t cackle even louder. I swear there is something damnably odd swimming in my families gene pool.
Well right around this time I see Deputy Jed’s bronco pull up and Old Sheriff Garrett gets out the driver side door, and waves the deputy off, before taking off his hat and clearing his throat.
“What in the hell you want now Les? You already took this lazy excuse for a workingman off his job once today and you know damn well that ever since my dear earl made the mistake of trying to shoot one of them damned brownies they got a grudge against this poor old woman”
Now Les had always been what you call, easy going, so he just cracked a wry grin to that particular verbal assault.
“I just need to talk to uncle Zeke for a few minuted now mam, and besides the way I remember it was you who tried to shoot the brownie and poor earl was to scared to stop you”
“What an utter calumny! I will not stand here and be insulted on my own land. You better finish this job before sundown of we’ll see how well your hoodoo stands up to a couple barrels of double aught!”
And with that she turned on her heel as smartly as any Hun officer ever had, and marched off, stamping her cane into the ground with every step like she was calling cadence. Les and I waited till she had cleared the rise and was on the other side before we both fell about ourselves laughing for a good few minutes.
“Talk while I’m working Les” I said as I picked up some branches and began reweaving them into the knotwork I used to protect my crazy niece from the meanest damn hill fairies in at least 9 counties.
“Well its like this Zeke..” He paused, wiping the back of his hand against his forehead, pulling out his old handkerchief and mopping his brow. “I think we got a problem.”
Now I’d known Les since the day midwife walked out of his daddy cabin with him, and the only times I could recall him ever being this reticent was when he needed to ask me a favor. And while Les wasn’t no rootworker, he’d picked up a fair number of tricks in his thirty years as a sheriff. So if he thought he needed my help he probably did, and it was probably worse then he thought. Now of course I was gonna help, not only was he family but he also held the only political office I actually respected. Didn’t mean I was gonna make it easy for him though.
“We got lots of problems Les. Not only is there a by god literal New York Yankee in the white house, The Wildcats still aint made it to the series, and if’n I don’t get these wards done by sundown you’re gonna have to Arrest your cousin for killing your uncle”
Les got a decent chuckle out of that, but I could tell his heart wasn’t really in it. So he followed the advice I’d given back when he was still wearing short pants and kids wearing short pants was still a thing. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and dealt with it head on. I say a lot about my family, but one thing no one has ever sand is that we don’t got sand.
“Its you’re kind of problem Zeke, My kind too if I’m being honest, its one of those weird cases where what you do and what I do get all mixed up together.”
“You mean like the Sawyer clan case?”
Les shuddered visible “Oh Gods I hope not, but mebbe”
‘Huh” I buried the little knotwork fetish at the corner of Elizabeth Abner’s property, lit a candle, spoke a prayer and sent my shine down through my fingers and into the dirt. I could feel the walls of spiritual energy snap close like a mousetrap. A fine bit of work. Standing up and dusting my hands off on the knees of my old overalls I looked at Les Garrett, and I could see he was afraid, but only because I knew him so well.
“Well I reckon you outta start at the beginning then, I suppose we might as well talk in the truck.”
As we walked down the dirt road towards where I’d parked my truck I saw a hint of a face peeking out from Lizzie’s house and threw her a wave. The sun was heading down and I knew damn well she wouldn’t leave it before down for nothing, no matter how much she trusted my wards.
Once we got on the road Les fished around in his breast pocket, pulled out a little bag and tossed in on my lap. “What do you make of that?”
“I don’t know. Rock candy maybe?” I wasn’t being a smart ass for once, the little red crystals really did look like rock candy.
“heh. I guess some folks might consider it a type of candy, but if I ever caught someone giving it to a kid I’d skip the courthouse and take him straight to the hanging tree.”
“drugs then” Les had had a mad on for drugs ever since Donny had come back from the Nam with a head full of bad memories and a worse heroin habit. I wasn’t quite as evangelical about them myself, but I wasn’t the one who had found his own son dead in the outhouse one morning either.
“Crystal Meth. Its one of the bad ones Zeke, makes people mean, paranoid, violent, and damn near immune to pain. Keeps them up or days straight and makes them think they can do anything. Worse it makes them think they got the right to do anything.”
“Hmmm. I thought that stuff was supposed to be blue?”
“Don’t tell me even you are a fan of that damned show? Glorifying goddamned drug makes, pushers, and killers” Like I said, Les is a bit evangelical when it comes to drugs. “No in real life it aint blue, but it usually aint red neither. And to tell the truth this stuff makes the regular stuff look like cough medicine.”
“I…. Its hard to explain Zeke. I mean we’ve sent samples to every damn drug lab in the state, to the boys at Quantico, hell I even called in some favors and got them assholes at langely to take a look, and so far as any of them can tell its just run of the mill meth. Much purer than normal but just meth they say. But then again none of them can tell me why its red. And Zeke this stuff don’t just lower a mans inhibitions and make him think he superman, it turns them into to monsters. You remember Jack Reid’s boy Billy?”
“Tow headed boy, slow in the head but strong as an ox?”
“That’s him”. Les paused and I just knew what came next was gonna be bad “We’ve been keeping this under wraps on account of how we don’t want folks to panic, but he killed his Momma and his Daddy. Hit his daddy in the head so hard so many times his skull was pulverized. And the things he did to his Momma? Dear god you don’t want to know. I wish like hell I didn’t. Thing is, when the drug wore off he was so mortified by what he done he called in the station, confessed to his crimes over the phone, put his daddy’s shotgun in his mouth and pulled both triggers. And you know what we found in his pockets Zeke? A little baggie just like that one on your lap, with nothing more than a few grains of red sand in it.”
No I understood why Les was so scared. Billy Reid had been soft in the head, but he had also been the sweetest damned boy I’d ever known. His daddy had to hire help come butchering time cause despite the fact that billy could probably kill a full grown bull with a single punch he was so damn sensitive his Momma had to take him into town when it was time to butcher the pigs. If he heard so much as a single squeal he’d be bawling his eyes out for days. He didn’t have a mean damned bone in his entire body. Hell if you asked me to bet my life on the last person on earth who would commit murder Mother Theresa would have lost to Billy Reid. If this shit could do that to Billy Reid, it could make a monster out of anyone. “you say the chemist’s couldn’t figure out what made it different?”
“Not a damned clue”
“”The I reckon you’re right, this is probably my kind of thing. Leave it with me, Ill go see what Stoney Sam can make of it. Want me to pick you up a jug of his corn? “
“Make it three Uncle Zeke” If I didn’t already know this was gonna get bad, that would have clinched it. Les wasn’t much of a drinking man, and a Jug of Sam’s finest usually lasted him half a year or more. If he wanted three?
“And Zeke, do it quick time if you can, I don’t want to bury any more families. “
“Reckon I will, now come over here and give your old illiterate hill william uncle a hug”
Les hadn’t hugged me that fiercely since the night of Donny’s funereal, and deep down in my water, I knew this was one was going to be really bad.”
As he got out of the truck to go back into the Sheriff’s office, Les was silhouetted for a moment by the setting sun, his white hair transformed into a multicolored halo, and I feared for my brothers great grandson without knowing why. So I said a quick prayer to Saint Peter for him, and hoped I could wrap this case up before anyone else got hurt. Thing about hope is, sometimes it’s our greatest strength, and sometimes its the cruelest damn thing on God’s green earth.